In springtime, many homeowners’ thoughts turn to home improvement projects. That typically means a hit in the wallet, and for some, guilty feelings about consuming too much. Most do-it- yourselfers saw up a lot of trees in the lumber they use. And they use other materials that affect the environment. But there are ways to keep more green in your pocket, and boost your green conscience. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports:
In springtime, many homeowners’ thoughts turn to home improvement projects. That
typically means a hit in the wallet, and for some, guilty feelings over consuming too
much. Most do-it-yourselfers saw up a lot of trees in the lumber they use. And they use
other materials that affect the environment. But there are ways to keep more green in
your pocket, as well as a green conscience. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari
If you’ve ever sat in a high school gym, you’ll likely get a sense of déjà vu when you
walk into John Patterson’s home. That’s because in its former life, the house’s flooring
was high school bleachers. Cleaning them up was a chore. Patterson says he and his
wife filled up a five-gallon bucket removing the gum wads from the 20-foot yellow pine
planks. But Patterson says the work was worth it…
“What I like about them the best is the wood is so old, because they were in the school
for like 40 years. I hope they stay here for 40 years. You can’t replace them, or regrow
trees this long and tall. It’s something I’m really proud of doing.”
The floor is just one part of the couple’s overhaul of their home. Two summers ago they
stripped the tiny ranch-style home down to the studs. They nearly doubled the square
footage, and added a second floor. The windows, siding and even the 2 by 4s, are reused
A growing number of homeowners are combining a do-it-yourself attitude with an
environmental ethic. Instead of shopping at big box chain stores, they go to auctions and
used building material stores. They buy everything from bathtubs to doors to, yes, even
the kitchen sink. Patterson’s wife Sarah Goss is the scavenger, scouting out the stuff for
him to install. For her, reuse has been a lifelong value.
“I think it’s upbringing. You just grow up feeling a little guilt if you overuse your
resources…any way you can conserve or be a part of that, I feel like it’s an added plus.”
They’re not the only ones who think this way. Kurt Buss is president of the Used
Building Materials Association. He says the reuse movement is spreading as
communities nationwide try to reduce landfill volume. Up to 40 percent of landfill space
is construction debris.
“You don’t throw away newspapers and tin cans. You shouldn’t throw away your house.”
Buss says reused materials can be better quality, too.
“More often than not the wood is old growth lumber, which is certainly preferable to
much of the lumber that you see in lumber stores today which is speed grown on tree
farms… So there’s premium materials that are available with environmental benefits
So, reused materials are often higher quality, and go easy on the environment.
They also cost a lot less – typically half of what the same item would cost new.
Still, not everyone’s sold immediately. There’s a lot of sweat equity that offsets the cost
advantage. John Patterson and Sarah Goss worked a long time scraping off all that
Then there’s getting over the fact that most of the stuff is someone else’s discarded
material… their trash.
Bruce Odom owns the Michigan store where Patterson and Goss found many of their
materials. He says many shoppers walk in skeptics, but become believers.
“You see a lot of one party tugging the other one along, and the other one saying, ‘No,
no, I don’t know about this,’ whether it be the husband or the wife. You see a lot of that.
And yeah, you do need to realize that it’s all done and installed, you probably aren’t
going to recognize the difference except in your checkbook.”
If you’re making a list of things to do around the house, you can find reused materials
stores in at least 30 states. A visit to one might deconstruct the perception that newer is
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cari Noga.