Reuse: Making Things New Without Waste

By McKenna Bland

It is easy to get wrapped up in the glamour of house flipping with HGTV shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers. Homeowners buy a home and professionals come in and do the dirty work. Homes go from drab to fab in 30 minutes!

No episode is complete without the classic teardown scene – where the homeowner or designer takes a swing at those tacky, outdated cabinets in the kitchen. In a few minutes footage will show the house completely gutted, a blank slate for hosts to work their magic.

What happens to those tacky, outdated cabinets? Or the doorknobs on every door in house? What about the baseboards in each room? Unfortunately, these things often get destroyed or tossed.

To understand the reality of waste in home repair and flipping, Amy Alderink, a former builder and current executive director of house flipping non-profit Homecor, shared about her latest reno.

Alderink and her team have been working on this home for the past three months. She says it was sold by an older couple looking to downsize. This is not usually the case for Homecor, an organization that aims to revitalize Holland’s Central City district one house flip or home repair at a time. They typically purchase homes in a short sale or foreclosures that are in desperate need of a facelift.

All materials that made up the original construction of this house were included in the sale and the couple even left some of their own furniture pieces and accessories for repurposing or staging the finished home. This gesture along with the house’s as-is construction give the Homecor crew something to work with. However, the quality of these pieces may not be valuable, functional or safe enough for resale.

“It comes down to a balance of what can be saved, and what actually makes sense to save,” Alderink explains.

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When she and the team began renoing houses eight years ago, she made the rookie mistake of repairing the existing windows in the home and keeping them for resale. Buyers were not thrilled with this because they wanted new, energy efficient and easy to open windows, she adds. Today her team only keeps stain-glass windows (like the ones pictured – yes, they’re actually from this flip) and windows that do not need to be opened. The rest of the old windows head to the basement.

“The basements of our renos become “graveyards” of sorts,” Alderink says.

On my visit, she walked me through the “graveyard”, a solemn and damp room hosting all of the original windows from the home, soon-to-be-painted doors and rotting baseboards. In one corner toilets and chandeliers laid next to each other and in another an old dresser and mirror. The previous homeowner also left his tool bench, a piece that Alderink plans to use for a butchers block island in the kitchen, and perhaps part of a bathroom counter. She hoards anything and everything that can be reused down here.

Along with her tool bench plans, she’s had the crew keep existing door frames and kitchen cabinet framing, as well as sanding the original pine floors, which have been underwraps (carpeting) for at least 20 years.

Cutting costs, is not always the goal for Alderink when it comes to why she reuses materials. Before this gig, she spent years as a contractor for new-build homes. This industry is constantly making things out of new materials, and that can feel wasteful.

For this reason, the crew tries to be mindful with their impact. What cannot be reused from the demolition goes to one of three locations depending on its condition or use. Metals are collected and sold to scrap yards like Black River Recycling. Furniture or appliances head to Lakeshore’s Habitat for Humanity Restore (sound familiar?). And as a last resort, the crew tosses things in dumpsters. But that is really a dreaded option for Alderink. Thankfully, there are other options.

“When everything else fails, we can tell them where to take things,” Mary Ann Hensley chimes in. Hensley, solid waste and recycling education coordinator at the City of Holland, points to things like the city’s relationship with Chef Containers and Comprenew for recycling and responsible dumping. There are a host of resources for Holland residents to take advantage of, she says.

Flipping homes requires reuseable materials to cut costs and to maintain character in home decor and design. Without it, our world faces an overwhelming waste of creativity and goods. Consider your options on your next home overhaul and keep your mind open to making one man’s trash (or donation) someone else’s treasure.

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