Bay Area man envisions environmentally conscious home built from old Bay Bridge scraps

David Grieshaber drove across the idea last year. As he crossed the Bay Bridge with his wife, brainstorming unique ways to build an environmentally conscious house using recycled materials, he thought: What would become of the original eastern span once the new bridge opened?

Neither he nor his wife had a clue, so Grieshaber decided to call Caltrans. After being rerouted to a half-dozen representatives, he was informed that the majority of the scraps likely would be shipped to China.

“After that, I thought, ‘Wow, it’d be great to make a house with all this material, that is self-sustaining as well as financially self-sustaining,'” he said.

But Grieshaber let the idea die up until a few months ago, when media outlets spotlighted bolt complications on the new eastern span that jeopardized the scheduled opening over Labor Day weekend — a problem mitigated by a temporary fix announced in mid-August.

Now with the new bridge scheduled to open at 5 a.m. Tuesday and demolition of the old span beginning soon after, Grieshaber has to pitch his Bay Bridge House to governing agencies and locals. He envisions using less than 200 feet of the 10,176-foot-long span to construct the most modern eco-house in the country with the help of cutting-edge Bay Area green technology companies.

“I heard there is the potential that pieces are being saved for a park or going to Oakland,” Grieshaber said. “Those seem to be antiquated ideas that are great, but we should be doing something different. Combining the eco-house idea and the bridge seemed like a logical step to change the way we think in the Bay Area.”

The roadway, with lane lines preserved, could serve as the bottom floor of the house, explained the 44-year-old computer engineer and entrepreneur from Brisbane. The bridge’s sides could act as walls, and pieces of concrete and asphalt could be ground up and reformed to avoid using plaster and wood.

The first floor would accommodate parking and possibly an office. The main living room would take up the second floor, and the third floor could feature a loft. A green roof with solar panels, windmills and fiber-optic lighting would occupy the fourth floor. Rainwater could be stored for use and a home-size desalination plant installed.

Grieshaber, his wife and two cats would live in the house and act as caretakers for an adjacent building that could be utilized as an eco-workspace or, ideally, a bed and breakfast.

“We want the idea to generate its own income so that it’s not a burden on any kind of taxpayers or government organization,” he said. “It would either be a nonprofit organization, if we can get away with it, or it’s going to be a B [benefit] corporation, which means you have a company charter and ethics.”

Grieshaber’s idea is innovative, but not the first of its kind.

Houses constructed with bridge pieces in Spain and the Big Dig House built from Boston’s central artery and tunnel project serve as successful examples on his website. Equipped with this research, Grieshaber recently reached out to architects, universities and agencies overseeing the Bay Bridge work.

“Unfortunately, it seems like everyone is either working on the Bay Bridge project and is in a frantic mess right now, or is at Burning Man,” he said.

The idea had not reached Bay Bridge officials, said spokesman Andrew Gordon.

“I’m sure there is some hazardous material,” he said of the pieces in their current state. “It’s one thing to drive over it; it’s another thing to live on it.”

In talks with agencies working to create Gateway Park in Oakland, it’s become clear that pieces going to a museum or for public view would need thorough cleaning.

“The bridge was repainted, but there are coats of lead paint underneath and asbestos that would have to be stripped,” said Caltrans bridge engineer Mike Whiteside, who added that the fate of the rest of the bridge parts is at the discretion of companies contracted for the demolition.

Still, Grieshaber hopes government agencies will donate bridge parts for the house and a plot of land as small as 50-by-50 feet. If those ventures fail, he said he’s still confident he can make the Bay Bridge House a reality out of pocket by buying the scraps from the demolition contractors themselves.

Grieshaber might have to go the extra mile, though.

“We wouldn’t be able to [sell pieces] at the site; it’s a liability issue,” said Rich Rigg, project manager for Silverado Contractors, one of the companies handling the demolition. “It’s already been decided the remnants will be sold to Schnitzer Steel in Oakland and Sims Metal in Richmond. We bring it straight to the recycler; he can always ask them.”

Grieshaber’s remaining challenge would be staking out a piece of land that isn’t government-owned and that fits his vision.

“No matter what, I would hope to have a view of the new bridge from the old bridge,” he said. “The Bay Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and once it’s torn down it’s gone from our history — unless we keep some of it around for future generations to be a part of.”