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Shades of Green in Remodeling

Home improvement season has begun in earnest, as evidenced by the number of Dumpsters parked outside residences and major appliances waiting for the scrap truck.

Spending on home remodeling projects is expected to rise almost 5 percent this year, and that would be the first annual spending increase since 2006, according to data recently released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

But since the last uptick in remodeling, it’s not just styles that have changed. It’s eco-awareness. In an era of reduce, reuse, recycle, “green” homeowners are looking for ways to discard what they don’t want without it taking up space in a landfill. And with some research, they’re finding alternatives.
“I’m getting so many calls, which is awesome,” said Deanna Davies, director of marketing and procurement at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Elgin.

Habitat’s ReStores, run by various independent affiliates of the national charity, accept donations of working appliances, furniture and building materials from consumers, contractors and retailers looking to winnow their overstock. The goods are then sold in the stores to the public at substantial savings that can equate to 50 percent of retail prices. All proceeds are used to build and renovate homes for needy families.

During a recent week, the Elgin ReStore accepted drop-off donations from 53 consumers and four companies. It also made seven residential pick-ups.
ReStore volunteers also have been known to help deconstruct a kitchen to get the cabinets out intact.

But a commitment to recycling parts of a home involves some dialing, and consumers shouldn’t expect that one charity will take it all. For instance, the Elgin ReStore won’t take used toilets, but toilets are one of the biggest-selling products at the Chicago Heights ReStore.

“The porcelain part of the toilet never wears out,” said Chris Hanson, president of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs. “Sinks, vanities and even light fixtures. How much does it ever wear out? You take it down and bring it here.”
Meanwhile, another volunteer-driven nonprofit called Rebuilding Together picks up donations and stores them in its warehouses with the intent of using the materials to renovate the homes of low-income homeowners. Sought-after donations include kitchen cabinets, major appliances and some plumbing fixtures.
What it doesn’t take includes doors and windows because the dimensions need to be too exact. “We love to recycle,” said Jeff Ruge of Rebuilding Together Aurora. “It’s a passion we have but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Roofers are now getting in on the recycling action, too. Owens Corning, a shingle manufacturer, recently opened Chicago-area recycling centers in Forest View and Lemont for asphalt shingles as part of a national alliance with Heritage Environmental Services. A third recycling site will open in Chicago Heights later this month.

During Forest View’s first week of operation, 50 tons of asphalt from 16 homes was recycled into road paving materials rather than sent to a landfill.
Owens Corning plans to take the program national after research found that half of homeowners value the capability to recycle shingles and would make decisions about which roofing contractor they use based on that ability, a spokesman said.

This story was first published on June 4, 2010 by the Chicago Tribune.