Home improvements don't have to feed the landfill

Ah, the sounds of fall: leaves crunching underfoot, squirrels chattering as they dart around gathering nuts, the clang of scrap wood hitting the inside of a construction dumpster.

Everywhere you look, homeowners are preparing for winter with a rush of improvement projects, from perfecting the patio to remodeling the kitchen. Each of these projects is likely to generate a considerable amount of disposable building material.

Interior design consultant Arleen Rice, who specializes in remodels and new construction, encourages her clients to recycle these resources.

'All their appliances, except for the refrigerator - sink, faucets, lights, cabinetry - these can all be donated and taken as a tax benefit,' counsels Rice, who owns For Your Interiors in West Linn (503-656-8751).

One of Rice's favorite places to refer homeowners is The ReBuilding Center (503-331-1877), the largest building reuse center in North America.

Located in North Portland, the ReBuilding Center accepts donations of reusable building materials, ranging from carpeting to windows. The nonprofit organization resells the materials for 10 to 50 percent of the market price. All told, the center recovers more than 4.5 million pounds of reusable materials annually.

Some materials that are donated in too small of a quantity to warrant resale are passed along to another division of the ReBuilding Center, called ReFind Furniture. There, discarded moldings find new purpose as picture frames and 100-year-old reclaimed Douglas fir lumber is hand crafted into kitchen or coffee tables.

The ReBuilding Center also operates DeConstruction Services, a licensed and bonded deconstruction business that accepts residential and commercial jobs within a 500-mile radius of Portland.

Sara Badiali, an administrative employee at DeConstruction Services, says that homeowners can hire DeConstruction Services the same way they would hire any other licensed contractor: by starting with a call to discuss the project.

After the call, an estimator at DeConstruction Services reviews the project description, follows up if more information is needed and makes a visit to the proposed job site. Then the homeowner receives a bid.

If DeConstruction Services is chosen for the job, its workers remove the relevant structures, piece by piece. They can clear everything down to the studs, or take out no more than a certain section of cabinets.

'We can get very precise,' says Badiali. 'We are often hired by regular contractors to come in and do the detailed [deconstruction] work. Our guys are faster and more conscientious about that stuff.'

For instance, if a homeowner wants a floor removed, DeConstruction Services not only takes up the floor, but they also remove the nails from the wood so that the lumber can be reused. If they deconstruct a chimney, the team cleans the bricks of mortar.

Using these detail-oriented methods, as much as 85 percent of a building's material can be salvaged for reuse. The homeowner may keep the reclaimed materials for their own use. Or, if they donate the materials to the ReBuilding Center, DeConstruction Services makes a detailed inventory of everything that was removed and gives a tax-deductible receipt to the homeowner.

'It's like donating part of your house to Goodwill,' says Badiali.

Another organization that accepts used building products is Habitat ReStore, in Southeast Portland, which raises funds for four local Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

Similar to the ReBuilding Center, Habitat ReStore (503-283-6247) welcomes a variety of materials as donations, like solid wood cabinets, wrought iron fencing and metal plumbing parts. It then sells the reclaimed materials to the public at a deep discount. Habitat ReStore offers a limited pick-up program but prefers for donors to drop off materials if possible.

There are certain items that neither Habitat ReStore nor the ReBuilding Center can accept, such as thermostats and used fluorescent bulbs. However, determined homeowners can find other organizations in the greater Portland area that collect these materials.

A good place to start looking for alternate recycling options is Metro, a regional government organization serving Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. Its Web site ( lists a wealth of resources for the waste-conscious homeowner.

For example, Metro's list of construction debris recycling facilities includes companies that accept carpet pad, concrete slabs, drywall and thermostats.

In addition, Metro's 'Find a Recycler' page can help locate a place to responsibly dispose of plant pots, nursery trays, sod and other debris from fall cleanup projects. They even recycle leftover latex paint as part of their innovative MetroPaint program.

Still can't figure out what to do with that stray pile of remodeling remnants? Badiali invites homeowners to call the ReBuilding Center, which she describes as 'a clearinghouse for recycling and reuse resources.'

'If we can't take it, we can absolutely, positively help you find somewhere that can,' adds Badiali.

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