OF THE 105 MILLION tons of construction and demolition debris generated in this country in 2010, only 28 percent was recycled, according to the Waste Business Journal. A kitchen and bath remodel alone can produce a ton and a half of waste. Yet renovating doesn’t have to mean sending all your old treasures to the trash.
For a fee, nonprofit environmental outfits offer tax-deductible “deconstruction” services that carefully remove reusable goods – 50 percent to 90 percent of what’s there – from a kitchen, bath, or even an entire house slated for demolition. And they operate reuse stores that sell those recovered items for half or less than their original cost, a good deal for thrifty New Englanders remodeling on a budget. Selling to a salvage store is another option, especially if you’re looking to get rid of unique goods – that old claw-foot tub or decorative fireplace mantel, for example.
The key is for homeowners to investigate the options before ripping anything out and to let their contractors know in advance that they plan to donate or sell their kitchen cabinets, counters, or doors. Contractors may be perfectly willing to carefully remove these items and set them aside. On the other hand, a deconstruction service is a good bet if the contractor prefers it or if the job is difficult; for example, sometimes a special tool is required when removing hardwood flooring that you want to preserve.
At EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield (413-788-6900, www.ecobuildingbargains.org) last month, the store’s latest deconstruction acquisition was on display: an entire kitchen with sleek mahogany cabinets, a pristine black-granite countertop, and restaurant-grade stainless-steel appliances – an $8,000 Gaggenau oven, a Sub-Zero fridge, and a Miele dishwasher.
“We’re selling the whole thing for $12,000, probably 5 or 10 percent of what it was new,” says executive director John Majercak. The 10-year-old thrift store for building materials, formerly the ReStore Home Improvement Center, is an offshoot of the Western Massachusetts-based nonprofit Center for EcoTechnology, which conducts energy audits for Mass Save and other environmental services.
EcoBuilding Bargains does deconstruction (jobs have ranged from $250 to $150,000), accepts new surplus or overstocked materials from home improvement retailers, and picks up donations of some types of older, still usable goods from homeowners – all of which it sells for a song. Recent offerings included discarded hardwood from a local bowling alley renovation, 1960s aluminum “rocket ship” lighting fixtures snapped up by a restaurant in Easthampton, pedestal sinks and claw-foot tubs, decorative columns, hard-to-find under-the-window vintage radiators with fancy scrollwork, hardwood flooring, ceramic tile, crown molding, plumbing fixtures, remixed latex paint, bricks, stones, pavers, roof tiles, shingles, cedar siding, ceiling fans, chandeliers, shutters, doors, and energy-efficient items such as low-flush toilets and double-paned windows.
Demand is so high, Majercak says, that the store will significantly expand later this fall when it moves into Springfield’s 100-year-old National Biscuit Co. building, just off Interstate 291. “We will be the largest store of our kind in New England,” Majercak says, with loading bays and 30,000 square feet of retail space, plus space for home improvement classes. The location will also stock never-used green items such as energy-efficient fans, easy-to-install click flooring made from natural materials, and water-saving devices like faucet aerators.
Over in Roxbury, Boston Building Resources (617-442-2262, www.bostonbuildingresources.com) operates a nonprofit reuse shop with limited deconstruction services. Deb Beatty Mel, assistant director of the reuse center, says, “We have a dual vision: keeping all this out of the waste stream and putting it back into productive use” while also helping people in the community on tight budgets.
The store, which started as the Building Materials Resource Center in 1992 in two unheated trailers, accepted $1.8 million in donated building materials from surplus stock and remodeling jobs last year and had $400,000 in sales, a third from kitchen items and appliances. (Like many reuse stores, Boston Building Resources usually requires donated appliances to be 5 years old or less to ensure energy efficiency.) An income-based yearly membership costs $10 and offers a discount, though you don’t need to be a member to shop there.
A 13-piece set of contemporary pickled-oak kitchen cabinets recently went on sale for $1,300 for income-qualified members and $1,950 for everyone else. “It probably retailed for $10,000 to $15,000,” Mel says. Other intriguing finds: a black KitchenAid wall oven and microwave ($660/$990); a carved cherry-stained fireplace mantel ($185/$277); a stainless-steel apron sink ($650/$975); a set of old-fashioned glass-paneled wood patio doors with matching sidelights ($450/$682); and 25 triple-bulb bronze-finish Kohler sconces ($45/$67).
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Boston opened its ReStore in West Roxbury (617-327-1170, www.habitatboston.org/restore) in April. For years, “people would call us: ‘I’m redoing my kitchen. Can I donate my cabinets?’ ” says Lark Palermo, executive director of the home-building nonprofit’s Boston affiliate. Habitat uses only new materials in its new homes, but the West Roxbury store came about when Lark and others realized that selling donated items could raise money to help the organization build more houses.
The ReStore doesn’t offer deconstruction services, but Palermo says “you can tell your contractor to remove kitchen cabinets and set them aside. They’re usually happy to do it because it reduces their disposal costs.” Habitat for Humanity will pick up donations, which are tax deductible, and it operates five other ReStores in Massachusetts: Carver, Lawrence, Leominster, Pittsfield, and Worcester.
Farther north, ReNew Building Materials & Salvage in Brattleboro, (802-246-2400, www.renewsalvage.org) offers deconstruction services, as well as environmental-job training, public education programs, and a 5,000-square-foot reuse store frequented by home remodelers, designers, and architects alike, says Nanci Bern, operations manager and director of the job-skills program.
ReNew’s store specializes in dimensional lumber (meaning it’s cut to one of the standard sizes), antique tools, Victorian door hardware, furnaces, old single-sash windows, and just about anything “old, architectural, and clearly vintage.” Newer items include things like a donation of a $6,000 lot of tiles, an “oops” from a store that had ordered too much. “People [could] sniff it from the road,” Bern says.
While the company’s typical deconstruction services can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000, Bern points out that tax deductions for donations sometimes offset what homeowners pay for the service. And the money that ReNew makes from sales goes toward affordable housing, local nonprofits, and ReNew’s own training and education programs.
If you’ve got an item with unique architectural value, you may be able to sell it to a salvage yard. Potentially salable items include hard-to-find vintage items – ornamental heat registers, anyone? – dimensional lumber, rigid insulation, stained-glass windows and other glass, and even metals from such things as aluminum siding and older appliances. Keep in mind, however, that although things like copper from pipes, wiring, gutters, and hot water heaters are going for almost $4 a pound, you’re not likely to reap big profits from a single-home renovation, according to Charles Aggouras, president of GFC Development Inc. in Somerville and Weston and a member of the Builders Association of Greater Boston’s Green Council.
At New England Demolition and Salvage in the Berkshire-Hathaway Mill building in New Bedford (508-992-1099, www.nedsalvage.com), about an hour’s drive from Boston, Harry James and his wife, Jeanine, operate a 130,000-square-foot indoor architectural salvage yard, with 6,000 doors, 600 claw-foot tubs, 250 fireplace mantels, and a host of other goods, plus a prop rental company that caters to the film business.
“We buy salvage rights when they’re tearing down a building,” Harry James says. A recent tear-down of two Rhode Island homes from the 1800s yielded vintage staircases, doors, windows, cabinetry, and lighting – for which James paid about $500. “But I probably spent $500 in labor getting the stuff out,” he adds.
He’ll pay more for high-demand items like stained glass. “I have a piece out of the Biltmore in Providence,” he says. “I bought it for $1,500.” More than 6 feet in diameter, it hung in the hotel’s foyer. It hasn’t sold yet.
What about the rest of your renovation debris – is it doomed to go to the dump? For larger projects, state Department of Environmental Protection regulations ban certain recyclable components of construction and demolition debris – metal, asphalt pavement, brick, and concrete, and as of this year, new drywall remnants – from landfills and incinerators. Wood is banned from landfills. But if you’re a homeowner expecting a small amount of remodeling debris (5 cubic yards or less) and you want to be sure it gets sorted for recycling, it’s a good idea to talk to your contractor – or your waste management company, if you’re doing the work yourself – before starting the job, says GFC’s Aggouras.
Chris Lucarelle, recycling manager at Waste Management of New England, one of many waste-hauling companies in the region, explains that some material, such as metals, paper, and cardboard, goes to traditional markets to be remanufactured into goods. “Wood can be remanufactured into pressboard and laminate board or used for biomass,” he adds. “Asphalt, brick, and concrete can be recycled into road-based material.” New, unused asphalt-roofing shingles can be recycled and used in the state’s highway hot mix.
The waste industry is working with the Department of Environmental Protection to develop more end markets for these and other materials. But for some items, there may not be a local market. The nearest recycling outlet for vinyl siding, for instance, is in North Carolina. “From a transportation standpoint, it’s too expensive to truck that far to make it a valuable commodity,” Lucarelle says.
Aubin Tyler is a writer in Northampton. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.