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Used and improved?

What do you do with items pulled from your remodeling projects?  You can avoid transportation and landfill costs by donating surplus materials to a materials exchange — and receive a tax deduction in return. In fact, you also can increase your profitability and reduce waste.

By Lauren Forgacs for PATH Partners March 31, 2004
This article first appeared in the PR April 2004 issue of Pro Remodeler.


What do you do with items pulled from your remodeling projects? If you pay expensive landfill fees to discard them, you should know that you can avoid transportation and landfill costs by donating surplus materials to a materials exchange — and receive a tax deduction in return. In fact, you can not only lower your taxes, but you also can increase your profitability and reduce waste. Then another contractor can make beneficial use of these valuable, often inexpensive, sometimes historical materials.

Materials exchange programs keep unwanted but usable materials out of landfills. They have existed for years, evolving and expanding to nearly all 50 states. These days, many exchanges take place online, using Web sites managed by nonprofit organizations or state agencies. Businesses, individuals and nonprofits can browse these sites to purchase materials or exchange materials for other building supplies.

Some organizations run brick-and-mortar stores. Remodelers can donate or purchase a wide range of building materials, such as intact working cabinets or appliances pulled from projects, obsolete products and last year's models.

Some reuse stores will collect surplus materials from your job site for a small fee. "We have a truck that goes out daily to make pickups of donations," says Michael Mazmanian of the Building Materials Resource Center in Roxbury, Mass. "For larger projects such as an entire house demolition, our organization will go in and remove items such as cabinets, toilets, sinks and hot-water heaters."

The rare find

For historical materials, try an architectural antiques store, which is more likely for-profit and usually specializes in vintage materials such as lighting fixtures, staircases, doors and mantels. Architectural antiques exchanges can be especially useful when a customer with an older house needs to match roofing materials, wood flooring, plumbing fixtures or hardware. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to ensure authenticity or provide product guarantees.

For Myles Pettengill, owner of Archway Builders in Philadelphia, this is not an issue. "Our customers are more concerned with the look," he says. "We give them more than they thought they were getting, so they're very happy."

Buyer (and seller) beware

If you're ready to participate in a materials exchange, here are things to consider:

It can be time-consuming to search online for a specific item or browse reuse stores, especially stores that have a small space with lots of inventory. If you decide to post your own materials, you will need to learn the Web site's policies and store your items until they sell. If you decide to purchase materials online, you'll have to wait for the seller's response and then exchange e-mails to arrange payment, shipping and delivery.

Online exchanges usually list items in bulk quantities, so a fair amount of storage space can come in handy. If you're wary of a no-return policy, stick with sites that offer samples. Some builders circumvent the storage issue by donating the surplus to a nonprofit for a tax deduction or selling it to an architectural antiques store.

Bill Asdal of Asdal Builders in Chester, N.J., says the costs of mis-ordering and storage can be high. "We do our best to carry no inventory," he says.

Materials such as paint, solvents, metal, rubber, wood pallets and chemicals need to go through a waste ex-change, not a materials exchange. Waste exchanges typically are administered through state or county recycling initiatives.

Advantages of exchange

If you enjoy perusing reuse centers and online auctions, and storage space is not an issue, exchanging materials provides numerous benefits.

First, you can offer a wider array of products, such as period pieces, antiques and specialty items. Offering these options can differentiate you from the competition. Pettengill says doing so has increased his referrals — so much that his company doesn't feel the need to advertise.

In addition, salvaged items cost less, so you will enjoy a higher profit margin. Consider how much your customers would pay for a farm sink from a 19th-century farmhouse or an oak door from France.

Finally, you can lower your taxes by purchasing salvaged materials from — or donating materials to — a nonprofit.

"It's a terrible waste to throw things out that are hardly used," says John Connaughton of Connaughton Construction in Waltham, Mass., who appreciates the savings on dumping and storage costs.

Don't forget: If you help protect landfill space and reduce waste, thereby improving the environment, let your customers know. It can lead to a better public image and reputation.

Author Information
Lauren Forgacs is a communications associate with D&R International, an energy and environmental consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md. PATH is a public-private partnership dedicated to the development and adoption of advanced building technologies. For more information, visit www.pathnet.org or www.toolbase.org, e-mail info@pathnet.org or call 800/245-2691.



State-specific listings: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides state-specific information on materials exchanges, including locations, contact information, services provided, and sources of technical and financial assistance for recycling businesses. www.epa.gov/jtr/comm/exchstat.htm

Online exchanges: eBay has created the Business Marketplace at www.ebaybusiness.com for business-to-business deals. Building materials and supplies can be bought and sold at http://business.ebay.com/11765.

Build.recycle.net is a fee-based ($25/month or $250/year) service and part of Recycler's World, a trading site for information related to recyclable commodities, byproducts, and used and other surplus items. www.build.recycle.net

Reuse stores: Habitat for Humanity estimates that its chapter network runs some 200 reuse centers that stock surplus building materials and sell them to the general public for a substantial discount. A partial list of stores is available at www.habitat.org/env/restore.html. Contact your local Habitat chapter to find out if a reuse store is near you.

Antiques and specialty items: Old House Web's guide to suppliers includes a guide to architectural salvage stores by state and category. www.oldhouseweb.com

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