Readers! I hope this post finds you well and not too snowy. As we head into the chilly depths of winter I'd like to spend a little time on a topic that never fails to warm my heart. That's right, folks, I'm talking about the reuse of building materials.
Salvaged materials have so many charms! They are beautiful, well made, and full of texture. They reflect the local building heritage, which, if you live in Chicago, is superior. They are cheap. Their manufacture has not recently generated any industrial waste, they are no longer offgassing any noxious fumes (if indeed they ever did), and they are otherwise destined for a landfill that is doubtless reaching capacity. Like anything worthwhile, they are somewhat challenging to work with, but this challenge can lead to all sort of wonderful design solutions.
Finding salvaged materials is sort of like finding a leprechaun. You can comb the alleys and garage sales, you can skulk around on Craigslist, or—if you have money to burn—you can go to some fancy salvage shops. The trick is not only finding the leprechaun, but finding him just when you need him, unless you have room in your basement to put him up until you are ready to start your project. We all know how hard it is to hold on to a leprechaun).
If you spend any time at all thinking about this problem you will quickly realize that it's a lot like world hunger: it's all a matter of distribution. We all know that people are constantly throwing away perfectly good doors, bathtubs, and lumber, just as people are constantly throwing away uneaten bread, cheese, and pate de foie gras. But getting that bathtub into the arms of a hungry person is no mean feat; for all it costs to ship it to Africa you might as well just write a check to the Heifer Project and donate a whole barnyard full of geese.
When I met Elise Zelechowski, Deputy Executive Director at the Delta Institute—she was grappling with this very issue. The Delta Institute, devoted to sustainability in the Great Lakes region, was getting ready to open a materials reuse warehouse. Elise had all kinds of willing donors—everyone likes the idea of giving away things they no longer need—but nowhere to put the stuff. She was hunting for someplace big and cheap and well-located so that she could hold onto enough materials and get enough customer traffic to make it a going concern, even as a nonprofit.