Essential Resources For Green Renovations In NYC

Essential Resources For Green Renovations In NYC

Essential Resources For Green Renovations In NYC

EDITOR’S NOTE: The issues of conservation, sustainability, and environmentally conscious design, construction, renovation and remodeling are important ones to me. A previous article I wrote called “Green Renovating In NYC” and a re-post of an article on sustainable kitchen renovations are good resources for those who also have this in mind. The New York Times recently did a good write up on this concept, pros and cons. I’m particularly enjoyed one of the reader’s comments posted on the original article’s page. I’d love to hear what you think! – R. Julio Diaz

Recycled Kitchens, Salvaged Splendor

By TIM McKEOUGH – AUG. 21, 2015 via The New York Times

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Jonathan and Barbara Pessolano bought a large used high-end kitchen for their house on Staten Island from Green Demolitions in Fairfield, N.J. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

When Jonathan and Barbara Pessolano began renovating an 1850s three-family house on Staten Island earlier this year, they didn’t intend to make it a model of recycling. But a search for a deal on a Miele dishwasher led them in an unexpected direction.

After admiring a high-end dishwasher at a Manhattan appliance store, and being shocked by the price tag of about $1,300, Mr. Pessolano turned to the Internet in search of savings. He soon stumbled upon the website of Green Demolitions, a store in Fairfield, N.J., that sells used luxury kitchens and other fixtures collected by the nonprofit donation program Renovation Angel.

Browsing the store’s inventory online, Mr. Pessolano, a hospital administrator, and Ms. Pessolano, a teacher, saw complete kitchens, including cabinets, countertops and appliances, priced for a fraction of what they would cost new.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Pessolano said. “We thought, ‘Really, you buy the whole kitchen?’ It seemed impossible, or incongruous.”

Jonathan and Barbara Pessolano’s kitchen in its original home and the plan for reinstalling the components in Staten Island.

Jonathan and Barbara Pessolano’s kitchen in its original home and the plan for reinstalling the components in Staten Island.

“The appliances alone would have cost a fortune,” said Mr. Pessolano, noting that the kitchen came with two Miele dishwashers, a 42-inch-wide GE Monogram refrigerator, a six-burner Viking range top, two Viking wall ovens and a Viking warming drawer. It also included seven lengths of granite countertop, under-cabinet lighting and more cabinets than they know what to do with. (Some leftovers may wind up in the laundry room.) “It was an unbelievable deal,” he said.

Inspired, they searched for more recycled building components, and soon discovered other stores with a similar mission to capture and divert construction materials that might otherwise end up in a landfill. At the Paterson Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Wayne, N.J., they came across two new surplus windows for $100 apiece. “It cost me more to rent the U-Haul than to buy the windows,” Mr. Pessolano said proudly.

At BIG Reuse (until last week known as Build It Green! NYC) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, they found a reclaimed oversize picture window for $670, and an antique marble mantel for $300. At the nonprofit’s other store in Astoria, Queens, they bought another large picture window for $350, and ceramic subway tile for a kitchen backsplash for $10 a box.

These and other goods at the stores included old fixtures that homeowners had removed to launch their own renovations, leftover building supplies, showroom floor models and items from new developments that buyers didn’t want to keep.

Construction is ongoing, but Mr. Pessolano said that using so much salvage is allowing them to do far more than they expected with their renovation budget of $100,000. “It has enabled us to achieve a certain look and style that we would not have normally been able to afford,” he said.

In New York, it’s no secret that some buyers of multimillion-dollar homes are willing to do whatever it takes to create a residence that reflects their personal taste — even if it means tearing out brand-new or lightly used kitchens and bathrooms that were installed by a previous owner or developer. The traditional way of dealing with that material is to demolish and dispose of it.

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Jonathan and Barbara Pessolano’s kitchen from Green Demolitions in place, approximately. The couple also bought windows, subway tile and a marble mantel from other salvage stores. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

According to the Department of Sanitation, the city’s facilities for processing construction and demolition debris handled approximately 2.25 million tons of waste last year, representing about 20 percent of all trash.

However, some environmentally minded homeowners and contractors choose to take things apart more carefully — a process known as deconstruction — and then donate the materials to salvage operations, so they can be reused by others. For budget-conscious homeowners willing to do a little hunting, and to be flexible about design decisions, that means there’s a ready supply of high-quality building materials available for surprisingly low prices.

Much of the material goes to BIG Reuse and Green Demolitions. Habitat for Humanity New York City also opened a ReStore in Woodside, Queens, last month. And there are dozens of ReStores farther afield in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, from a total of about 860 such stores across the country.

Recent stock at BIG Reuse’s Brooklyn location included a free-standing Waterworks bathtub for $5,000, sold new for more than $10,000; contemporary Toto toilets for $160 each, about $400 new; a large marble bathroom vanity top for $255; solid wood interior doors for $75 each; and complete kitchen cabinet sets for under $1,000.

The environment is more supersize garage sale than polished showroom, and shoppers should be prepared to get dusty while poking about the castoffs. “It’s sort of like a treasure hunt,” said Justin Green, the executive director of BIG Initiatives, which runs the BIG Reuse centers.

But time spent searching can pay off. “Being New York City, there’s a lot of very high-end renovations going on, and very lightly used things going out,” said Mr. Green, noting that the centers frequently receive products from top-tier brands, like cabinets from Poggenpohl and Bulthaup, and appliances from Sub-Zero and Viking.

The organization has collected materials from many of the city’s most prestigious buildings, including 15 Central Park West, the Dakota, the Apthorp, the Time Warner Center and the Plaza. Each year, Mr. Green said, the operation diverts about 2,000 tons of construction castoffs from landfills.

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Green Demolitions in Fairfield, N.J. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Most items are priced at about half of what they would cost new. The trade-off is that “there is more work involved in reuse, because you have to make what you find work,” said Mr. Green, rather than having new cabinets or floors built to your exact measurements. And the discards, however high-end, may not come with a warranty.

For the designer Thomas Warnke, it’s well worth the effort. He regularly visits BIG Reuse, looking for bargains. Mr. Warnke has used his finds to renovate his own townhouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which he completed last summer; in projects for clients; and in homes that he has bought, fixed up and resold.

“Reusing things just makes sense” from an environmental perspective, Mr. Warnke said. “And, I wouldn’t be able to afford a lot of these products at regular prices.”

For his own home, he found a suite of Smeg kitchen appliances — an oven for $1,200, about $2,400 new; a cooktop for $600, about $1,200 new; and a refrigerator for $800, about $2,000 new. He also obtained a steel wet bar for $500, and industrial-style light fixtures for $120 each.

For a different home he renovated and sold in Red Hook, he discovered nearly new high-end windows for $250 each and doors for $500 each, all of which had been installed and then promptly removed from a mansion in the Hamptons, because the homeowner didn’t like them. Those prices were about a quarter of what the pieces would cost new, Mr. Warnke estimated.

To use materials that were custom-made for another space, “I design around them,” he noted. “I might feel a slightly different proportion would be nicer, but I’m willing to compromise a bit,” to save money and build in a more sustainable fashion.

David Savatteri, the owner of the photo booth rental and sales company NYC Photobooth, and Joan Powers, a children’s book editor, are also repeat customers of BIG Reuse. In 2012, they acquired most of the materials they needed to renovate the kitchen of their home in Long Beach, N.Y., over “many, many trips,” to both locations, Mr. Savatteri said.

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For the renovation of his Brooklyn townhouse, Thomas Warnke, a designer, used many reclaimed components from Build It Green! NYC, now BIG Reuse. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“You never know what you’re going to find,” he said. “You could walk in one day and come up dry, but you go in the next time and find three things that will work for you.”

The couple bought a large set of cabinets for $2,400; a Sub-Zero refrigerator for $1,800, about $10,000 new; a Viking range for $2,400, about $9,000 new; and beams reclaimed from a Manhattan building to create a distinctive ceiling for $3 per linear foot.

BIG Reuse guarantees the appliances it sells will be functional for 90 days, a policy that pleased Mr. Savatteri and Ms. Powers when they discovered their refrigerator required repairs. “It needed about $800 worth of work,” Mr. Savatteri said. “The Sub-Zero guy repaired it,” he said, and the organization took care of the bill.

They also sanded and repainted the kitchen cabinets, and had a carpenter modify them to fit their kitchen. “It was a bit of a puzzle,” Mr. Savatteri said.

Now, they are at work on the renovation of their second home in upstate New York, using more products from BIG Reuse stores, including another set of kitchen cabinets ($1,500), French doors ($175 to $600 per pair), and a bathroom vanity with a stone top ($200).

For homeowners considering gut renovations, the advantages of donating old building materials to a nonprofit extend beyond the reduction of waste — there’s also a substantial financial incentive. Both Renovation Angel and BIG Reuse have insured deconstruction teams that will remove upscale kitchens, bathrooms and other materials at no cost. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Queens picks up donations without charge, but does not perform deconstruction. This may reduce the demolition and disposal fees charged by contractors.

Donated goods are also charitable contributions. “You get a full tax deduction for the fair market value,” according to Steve Feldman, the president of Renovation Angel and Green Demolitions, which, he said, recover and sell some 600 kitchens per year from homes across the country.

Gail Heatherly bought a kitchen from Green Demolitions for her apartment in Washington Heights. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Gail Heatherly bought a kitchen from Green Demolitions for her apartment in Washington Heights. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Proceeds from sales of materials collected by Renovation Angel and BIG Reuse are largely used to fund their operations. However, Renovation Angel also donates a portion of its revenue to other nonprofits, and BIG Initiatives runs programs that train people for green jobs, and donates or discounts materials to other nonprofits as well as community and school gardens. Proceeds from sales at the ReStore in Queens help fund the activities of Habitat for Humanity New York City.

When Dennis Lee, a financial services professional, and Migene Kim, an investment portfolio manager, were preparing to start the renovation of their co-op apartment on Park Avenue South in Manhattan in March, having Renovation Angel remove their 12-year-old kitchen was “a no-brainer,” said Mr. Lee.

“Our contractor was very transparent and said he would shave off close to $5,000 of our demolition costs,” said Mr. Lee, who is now having a professional appraisal completed for tax purposes. He expects the fair market value of their old kitchen, which had Arclinea cabinets, stainless-steel and Corian countertops, a 48-inch-wide Sub-Zero fridge and a 48-inch-wide Wolf range, to be about $15,000.

“That’s additional money in my pocket that I can use to help offset the cost of renovation work,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s also nice to know it’s not going to end up in a landfill.”

To other homeowners, kitchens like the one donated by Mr. Lee and Ms. Kim are the pinnacle of luxury. Gail Heatherly, for instance, bought a small galley kitchen from Green Demolitions that came from a building on Park Avenue South for a one-bedroom co-op apartment she was in contract to buy in Washington Heights. For $5,100, she was surprised at the quality of the components — wood cabinets, granite countertops, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a stainless steel Verona range and a Bosch dishwasher. Green Demolitions estimated the tab for these items new would have been $19,500.
Ms. Heatherly wanted to move quickly, after losing a previous kitchen to another buyer, so she bought it in August 2012, even before closing on the apartment the following month. The apartment purchase went smoothly, and she hired a contractor to install the kitchen soon after.

“There was some customization that had to be done, including a little cutting of the granite top and placing one of the counters on an L,” said Ms. Heatherly, who is a lawyer. “But the lady who helped me at Green Demolitions charted the whole thing out, and helped me figure out that it would fit in my space.”

That’s just the sort of experience that Mr. Feldman hopes will encourage other homeowners to consider using recycled materials in their renovations. “We have a lofty goal,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that no good luxury kitchen gets thrown out.”

The article Recycled Kitchens, Salvaged Splendor first appeared in The New York Times on August 21, 2015. A version of this article appears in print on August 23, 2015, on New York Times page RE1 of the New York edition with the headline: Secondhand Splendor.

The article prompted one comment worth noting here as food for thought and further discourse:

“I’m all for reusing good materials, but a kitchen with two dishwashers, a 3.5 ft-wide fridge, two ovens and a warming drawer isn’t exactly a model of sustainable living.”

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Habitat for Humanity ReStores

ABOUT THE EDITOR:

RJ (Julio) Diaz is an established and experienced NYC construction excecutive for over 20 years, specializing in interior remodeling and renovation. RJ founded RenovatingNYC in 2010 to share his knowledge and passion for architecture, design and the craft of construction. His mission is to profile the best renovation and remodeling resources in New York City. With an extensive portfolio of high quality interior renovations, conversions and custom work for a demanding market, RJ can also provide preliminary cost estimates or provide project management services for your renovation project. Please go to our Services page and use the contact form for more information.