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Homeowners Reuse Materials for Environmental and Aesthetic Reasons

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By Kathleen Lynn

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011—(MCT)—Renovating? You could just rip up the old room and sweep everything into the trash bin. But a growing number of homeowners, architects and builders are trying to reuse or recycle construction materials whenever possible—for reasons both environmental and aesthetic.

Architect Anthony Garrett went this route with the gut renovation of a Hoboken, N.J., building. Its wooden floor joists, more than a century old, were reclaimed and trucked to Montville Township, N.J., to be reused as flooring and exposed beams in a planned mixed-use development.

“It’s dismantling, as opposed to demolition,” said Garrett, of the Bilow Garrett Group in Ridgefield Park, N.J. “I can’t think of anything more sustainable than that; there’s an embedded energy in that material that we salvage, and we don’t have to cut any more trees down.”

With construction waste making up as much as 25-50% of the junk in landfills, the push to salvage building materials is “gaining a huge amount of momentum,” said Anne Nicklin, executive director of the Building Materials Reuse Association, an Oregon-based trade group. Reused materials are not just better for the environment; they also can be higher quality, she said. “You can’t buy old-growth timber at home improvement stores, but you can find it in a building that’s coming down,” Nicklin said.

Municipalities, worried about scarce landfill space, are offering cheaper or faster permits for deconstruction, rather than demolition, Nicklin said. And federal agencies offer training to workers on how to salvage building materials. She estimates that 75% or more of most buildings can be reused or recycled.

A number of nonprofit retail outlets offer a marketplace for old building materials. They include Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Mine Hill, N.J., Build It Green NYC’s store in Queens, and Connecticut-based Green Demolitions, which has a store in Riverdale occupying space donated by Bograd’s Fine Furniture. Green Demolitions targets affluent homeowners who decide that their kitchens aren’t quite right, but who feel guilty about dumping cabinets and appliances that are sometimes only a few years old.

It might be hard to believe that homeowners would replace kitchens that are in good shape, but “they want the kitchen they want,” said Green Demolitions founder Steve Feldman. His pitch: By donating the old kitchen to his company, homeowners can save the disposal costs, plus get a tax deduction because Green Demolitions’ profits go to support addiction treatment programs.

“Why throw out something that’s perfectly good and totally usable?” said Alan Asarnow, sales manager at Ulrich Inc. in Ridgewood, N.J., a home renovation company that encourages clients to recycle their old kitchens. Many of the kitchens his clients donate are only about 10 years old, he said.

Green Demolitions sold 600 kitchens last year in its three stores; most were donated by homeowners, but about 100 were store displays donated by kitchen remodeling contractors.

“When you think about something being thrown out, sometimes that’s where the opportunity is,” Feldman said. He estimates his company keeps two million pounds of debris out of landfills each year.

Those who buy the old kitchens and other materials at Green Demolitions or the ReStores find discounts of 50-80%.

Stephanie and Vincent Gurnari of Oakland, N.J., visited the Green Demolitions store recently, looking to add a few cabinets to their existing kitchen, but spotted a full kitchen—including appliances—for just under $6,000. “We just kind of jumped on the opportunity,” Stephanie Gurnari said. “It was too good of a deal to pass up. We’ve got champagne tastes, and we wouldn’t have been able to get some of the features we got with the budget we had.”

Of course, this kitchen was built for someone else’s home, so the Gurnaris are going to have to be a bit creative about fitting it into their space. But Vincent Gurnari, a teacher, used to work in a cabinet shop, and they have some handy relatives, so they’re pretty confident about making it work.

“Kitchens are modular. They’re boxes,” Feldman said. Green Demolitions usually recommends buying a kitchen that’s a little bigger than your space to provide flexibility.

Reusing or recycling materials can help builders get the environmental stamp of approval known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental design. The LEED certification is awarded by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, which gives builders credit for keeping materials out of landfills.

A decade ago, “the marketplace was unsophisticated in its ability to effectively divert a large amount of materials from the landfill,” said Daniel Topping, an architect with NK Architects in Morristown, N.J. But it’s a lot easier these days to find a new home for old materials. “It’s just a little more legwork,” Topping said.

Because reusing materials requires careful deconstruction of a room or building, it is usually more time-consuming and can be more expensive than simple demolition. But it also doesn’t create the clouds of dust—potentially laden with asbestos or lead paint—created by demolition, Nicklin pointed out.

“There’s a steep learning curve for a lot of contractors,” said Petia Morozov of the architecture firm MADLAB in Montclair, N.J., who takes a “surgical” approach to deconstructing a house.

Morozov and her partner, Juan Alcala, recently worked on Alcala’s brother’s home, a ranch house that was taken down to the foundation and rebuilt. They reused a lot of the wood and brick, for aesthetic as well as environmental reasons. Cypress wood paneling and some flooring from the home’s interior weren’t needed in the new design, but were salvaged and resold, helping to offset the costs of the project.

Homeowner Carlos Alcala said he and his wife, Vicki, were motivated partly by a desire to be green, but also by their feeling that the re-used brick is more attractive, and preserves some of the house’s history. Saving money was also part of the equation. “When it makes sense, especially from an economic perspective, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t reuse materials,” he said.

(c) 2011, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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