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Originally published August 27, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified August 27, 2010 at 11:00 PM

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Recycling that old house

Salvage in Seattle: Wanting to tear down their house but also save some of it, the owners turn to a nonprofit business that keeps usable stuff from being dumped.

Special to The Seattle Times

The home salvagers

Local businesses to contact

THE SEATTLE AREA is home to a number of businesses that salvage building materials, including The RE Store, Second Use and Earthwise Architectural Salvage. Those three belong to the Northwest Building Salvage Network, a coalition working to further their similar missions, such as preventing usable materials from going to landfills.

The RE Store: The RE Store has two retail branches, in Ballard and Bellingham. Both sell salvaged building materials to homeowners and contractors looking for such things as an antique claw-foot tub, a period light fixture, or the one crystal doorknob missing from their older home. The stores also deal in any home or building item that has a reusable life; including cabinets, doors, flooring, even lockers from local schools undergoing improvements. The two RE Stores are part of the Bellingham-based nonprofit RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, which also operates other conservation-focused programs:

Second Use: Second Use goes beyond recycling and according to its website, offers "a mechanism for passing on the stories that inhabit the homes and businesses throughout the Puget Sound region." It provides salvage services as well:

Earthwise Architectural Salvage: Earthwise Architectural Salvage says it endeavors to preserve Seattle's "architectural past" by salvaging usable material and recycling it to customers through its store. Earthwise offers free salvage pick-up:

Nancy Chaney


Tracey and Chuck Shigley and their two kids loved the location of their home; right in the thick of Wallingford, near a park, a school and shops.

Their granny of a house, however, had seen her best days go by. She was more than 100 years old and had suffered through some awkward remodeling over the years.

There was the strange tunnel of a pantry, and the tiny half-bath and laundry area hanging off the back of the kitchen, rooms listing in various directions, and like in many old homes, the closet space consisted only of nooks and corners eked out of roof eaves.

Add to those shortcomings a complete mess of a foundation and asbestos siding, and the old structure's duty was done.

After considering updating their home for years, and trying to come up with a workable remodeling plan, the Shigleys decided that starting over presented the best option. But there was snag.

"I was uncomfortable with trashing the whole house," Tracey Shigley said.

She did not want the home's many usable elements to go to waste.

Enter The RE Store.

On a salvage mission

Perhaps best known for its retail store, the nonprofit RE Store in Seattle also runs a salvage service. The salvage crew obtains much of the retail store's stock from remodels and tear-downs in the Puget Sound area, harvesting stuff that would otherwise end up as garbage.

"Our mission," said Joel Blaschke, RE Store salvage manager, "is to divert material from the landfill."

Tracey Shigley had seen The RE Store's truck in her neighborhood and contacted the staff about her to-be-torn-down 1907 house. Blaschke previewed the home, noting a treasure trove of material that could be salvaged.

The RE Store's free salvage service works like this: Before a remodel or demolition project, the salvage crew removes material that can be sold at the store or otherwise recycled.

The salvaged material becomes a donation from the home or building owner to the nonprofit RE Store. In exchange for the donation, the owner receives a charitable contribution receipt for tax purposes, and saves on disposal fees because there is less waste to be dumped.

Crow bars and saws

Relieved and pleased that much of their home could be saved and reused, the Shigleys set a date with The RE Store. It was time to gather up the old house's history and send its finest features to breathe new life into other homes.

On a warm August day, the salvage crew arrived at the Shigleys' home armed with their profession's surgical tools: crow bars and reciprocating saws.

Crew lead James Taylor set to work in the first floor entryway and dining room. He pried off painted fir trim with the clink-clink sound of hammer on crow bar. Wearing a mask and in a cloud of gray plaster dust, he cut out entire doors in their jambs using his saw.

In the living room, crew member Philippe Bishop made quick work of taking down decorative crown molding and removing a matching fireplace mantle.

Though these items were newer and not original to the house, he explained that they would still be desirable items at The RE Store, particularly as they were unpainted.

Bishop continued working on a built-in window seat and original fir trim that appeared to have been painted at one time, but later stripped.

Upstairs, crew member Troy Hamrick spent time working on some smaller items. For each salvage job, the crew uses a list of items to be taken that Blaschke has drawn up in advance.

But Blaschke also trusts his team's knowledge and gives them lots of leeway to decide what's worth taking once on site.

So in addition to following the list, Hamrick said he usually begins with "What's cool to you." He removed a towel bar and light sconces from the upstairs bathroom and other smaller items such as original brass latches from cupboard-style closet doors.

The crew debated the kitchen cabinets. Though they had been built in place and therefore lacked backs, the door fronts were nice looking, stained knotty pine. The verdict was that they could be sold at The RE Store so the crew pried them off the walls. (A yellowed newspaper found inside a wall revealed that the kitchen had last been remodeled in March 1991.)

The local advantage

Helping out on this job, RE Store's Sarah Krueger, the outreach and marketing manager, received lessons in using the reciprocating saw and in how to remove tongue-in-groove wood flooring.

"The beauty of salvage material," said Krueger, "is that it can stay local. Flooring from this house can end up in Ballard or Shoreline."

She went on to describe how bamboo, generally considered a sustainable flooring material, may not be so green. The energy and distance involved in obtaining bamboo from overseas is significant when compared with locally recycled flooring, she said.

As the day progressed, material piled up in the Shigleys' front yard, including doors in jambs; a small oak-medicine cabinet; the built-in ironing board in its cupboard, removed whole from the kitchen wall; a pedestal sink; even a tiny oval window from above a closet door; and lots of molding and flooring. The crew would later cart everything back to RE Store facilities to prep it for sale.

The remains of the house will be torn down in the coming weeks.

Just before, the salvage crew will return to remove some newer, double-hung wood windows.

Blaschke explained they try to time their window salvage carefully. He doesn't want to leave a home standing without windows, and it's too much trouble to board up the holes for a short period of time.

In the same spot where their old house stood, the Shigley family will begin building a new home, better-suited to their family, more energy efficient, and of a design in keeping with the architecture of the neighborhood.

One item from the old house will find a place in the new house.

On a swinging door between the old kitchen and dining room, the Shigleys made pencil marks over the years charting their kids' growth. This door was not taken for salvage. Instead they intend to keep it, to continue serving as an important piece of family history and as a link between old and new.

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