Since I love reuse and upcycling, it pains me when I see all the waste that happens when it comes to home renovations/makeovers. Some is, well…necessary– for example, you’ve just bought a house and you’re “not going to spend one night in a house with stained carpet that’s been lived on for years by a family with big hairy dogs” so the carpet is ripped out and laying at the curb, rubber padding and all, before the ink from signing the closing documents is barely dry. Shower tiles, sinks and toilets may also be ripped out and added to the pile, and of COURSE any non-granite countertops, because you’ve had great fear put in you that you won’t be able to sell your house someday if you don’t get rid of them…and, even walls may be torn down, and that trash pile just keeps on growing…but, you have to like your surroundings, right? You want to have a space you can feel good living in, and if you own it and can afford to make changes, why not? And, updating can increase the value of your home, so again, why not?
As Chip and Joanna Gaines and other home makeover celebrities fuel the fire of “tear out and renovate,” I’ve just got to think that, while major renovation IS needed in certain situations, homeowners are more inclined to do that now more than ever before, whether they really need it or not, i.e. “it’s what you do” or, “it’s what everyone does.” Like a knee-jerk reaction. A deep dive on the Internet pretty much confirms my hunch: the U.S. home remodeling market has recently been grossing more than $300 billion a year, with kitchen remodels accounting for about 80 percent of that total. As Forbes magazine put it, “an expensive and wasteful cycle, as perfectly functional kitchens are torn out and remodeled each time a house changes hands.” Sometimes several for one house within just 10 years. And I’m sure bathrooms are a close second! More sobering statistics: renovations can generate approximately 60 pounds of waste per square foot of a project on average, and more than 30 percent of the waste in a landfill comes from home renovation.
It’s GREAT that there are companies and organizations that can put renovation waste to good use– for example, Shaw Industries Group, Inc. has a carpet reclamation/recycling program called Re[TURN]®; Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore locations accept small and large donations of used building materials as well as new or gently used furniture, appliances, housewares, and more, with many ReStores offering free pickup of large items. Northstar Clean Technologies recovers and reprocesses asphalt shingles, and repurposedMATERIALS, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Industrial Thrift Store,” (with locations in Arizona, Iowa, Colorado, Texas, Ohio and South Carolina) collects all sorts of used/surplus building materials from companies and organizations, including flooring, insulation, lighting, concrete, plastic, rope, rubber, wood, glass sheets, steel and metal, even synthetic turf (and a fun category called “weirdSTUFF”) and sells it all to the public.
But when it comes to the average homeowner’s pile of leftover remodeling materials, which are often required by a city or HOA to be hauled off as soon as possible (and not put in curbside trash), to be waste conscious you’ve got to have the vehicle to haul the stuff to resellers/repurposers, and the time to find the places that will reuse it (or the time to write and babysit an ad on Facebook Marketplace to find someone who wants it), or you’ve got to work with an eco-friendly contractor who will take it to places other than the landfill. And in my experience so far, those types of contractors are few and far between, at least the ones in my price range. Also, a renovation is usually head-spinning, as nothing goes exactly as planned, and who wants to add to the stress by worrying about the project’s waste??!!
A simpler solution is to simply take on a different mindset when initially considering a renovation and pause to ask questions like, “Does this or that really need to go? Can this be used in a different way? Can this be made over rather than torn out? Can the look I want be created another way?”
I found myself asking those questions a lot with our current house. Built in 1980, it had a lot of interior quirks that I could imagine many people I know completely redoing, but I decided to rethink some of them. Well, actually, most of them. Like the mini-bar. SO many homes built in the 60s, 70s and 80s (at least in North Texas) have mini bars, and in our past home buying experiences, we’ve viewed our fair share of them, and I always kvetch over the “waste of space.” The one we acquired with this house was in the back of the living room, located under a stairwell and behind two French doors. My original plan was to gut it, rip out its counters, sink and cabinets and turn it into a storage closet, but then…after realizing it really wouldn’t provide that much storage, I had a lightbulb moment and (with the encouragement of my designer friend Tara) decided that instead of hiding it, I would “celebrate” it– open it up, remove the doors and paint the back wall a different color, and add some mid-mod looking metal art and a vintage ice bucket from an antique store, so the whole thing would be an extension our small living room– it would add a little more space, and add to the mid-century vibe of the living room furniture (not to mention, once I added a mini fridge and a vintage air popper, it would become a great place to grab refreshments while watching TV!). And just when I thought I’d at least replace its old countertop, I realized that the countertop’s chocolate brown, “marbleized” Formica had a vintage “so bad it’s good” feel– it was “campy,” and worked well in tandem with the off-white cabinets and dark wood floor and fit right in with everything else. So it remains.
And if you’ve followed @untrashcreativereuse on Instagram, you might remember my story about the half bath– the one originally decked out in “Duck Dynasty” style by the previous owners. As I redid that room, I just couldn’t see getting rid of a perfectly good, wood vanity in the process, even though it wasn’t the style of the rest of our stuff…so I put new handles on it, and along with different wall paint, and spraying gold paint on the black wood mirror above the vanity, and adding other touches like a very cool modern floor lamp, the room “works” with the rest of the house (photo is still on my Instagram bio page).
I’m hoping my home decor “saves” might inspire others to “rethink before they rip”. For a little more inspiration, here are a few more of my favorite “hacks” for incorporating reuse into home makeovers:
- Try a professional “reuse home makeover”– many interior/home designers (like Tara, mentioned above) offer a service where they’ll come through your home and simply give you ideas on how to re-work a space differently, change up things using what you already have, and maybe suggest a few new accessories. They might spend an hour walking through your home with you, making suggestions while you take notes. Or spend a couple hours re-working things without you around and then surprise you. And that’s it. Some call it “refresh service”; I used it once when I was stumped on how to make a house look better, and another time when we were wanting to sell that same house years later and needed to make updates for photos (and prospective buyers). It really made a difference and costs so much less than traditional interior design service (let alone a renovation!), and it’s an option for both homeowners and renters, since major renovation is not the goal.
- Kitchen cabinets, laundry cabinets and other types of cabinets don’t have to be torn out to get a new look. Many have “good bones” and just need new cabinet doors/fronts— it’s called cabinet refacing, and we’ve done it at two different houses– Google it to find someone (or some company) that can make and install new cabinet doors. It’s a big cost savings vs. a completely new installation, and for sure saves on environmental waste. And if they have soffits above them as so many old upper cabinets do, just work with them instead of hate them– paint them the same color as the cabinets or a soft neutral color so they don’t stand out, or make them stand out on purpose– we recently covered one in our laundry room with colorful self-adhesive wallpaper, and it really helped that utilitarian space “come alive.”
- Take advantage of “easy paint”– like Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, which I’ve blogged about before– it can transform furniture, built-ins, cabinets and other surfaces without any sanding or paint stripping needed; a non-painter can easily use it! You just clean off the surface and paint. We just discovered recently when redoing that laundry room that major paint companies have finally jumped into the easy-paint arena– major brands like Behr and Benjamin Moore now offer their own brand of chalk paint as well as Alkyd paint, which “gives the performance of a traditional oil-based paint with the ease of use and convenience of a water-based paint.” Basically, you can paint over painted cabinets and other painted surfaces with minimal to no sanding needed, just like chalk paint, but with a smoother surface and a more “traditional house paint” feel. Our laundry room’s old cabinets just got a facelift that way; our painter requested the Alkyd paint and just painted over the existing paint with no primer and minimal prep, just made sure they were clean beforehand. It’s low-odor and sometimes referred to as more environmentally friendly (I LOVE not having to use stinky chemicals like paint stripper, primer, etc.!).
- Don’t forget about new knobs/handles as an inexpensive way to give a vanity, cabinets or dresser a new look– I’ve spent way too much time looking online at them, there are SO many creative ones! (And some creative types paint/decorate their existing ones rather than replace!) My reuse startup, Untrash Creative Reuse will happily accept donations of “pre-loved” knobs and handles– in addition to their use in renewing dresser drawers and cabinets, they can be used in other creative ways, such as on a wooden wall rack to hang things like coats and jewelry…my husband and I even used a couple interesting handles years ago when making a cheese tray!
- Zippered or buttoned pillow covers are one of my favorite home decor tools– what a great idea, right? You don’t have to buy a brand new pillow with stuffing every time you want to refresh your toss pillows on sofas, chairs, beds or outdoor furniture– just get some new pillow covers and stuff the old pillow inside! Pottery Barn has long been a purveyor of pillow covers; and there are a huge variety of pillow covers from small businesses on Etsy, such as these made from upcycled denim by Saturday Stitched.
- Some people get rid of perfectly good bathroom vanity countertops (seriously!) because they don’t like/can’t scrape built-up limescale off from around the base of the faucet, or they buy a new glass shower door because they can’t de-grime their old glass shower doors enough; Norwex Descaler is the best thing I’ve ever seen to do both, with again, minimal effort. It’s spray, wait, and wipe. No tough scraping needed, no harsh fumes. And all their products tout eco-friendliness…the Descaler is worth every penny of its over-$30-a-bottle price tag (and I’m a cheapskate, so that’s saying a lot)!
- Mosaic tiles, large and small (sometimes mixed with old broken dishes, coins, collected trinkets, etc.) can completely cover an existing backsplash, fireplace surround, and other surfaces to give a new look without the hassle (and dust!!) of busting out existing tile and replacing it. I once reported on a tour of homes for the Dallas Morning News and was blown away by what could be done by mosaics in home projects; I dabbled in creating with mosaics when Dallas used to have a wonderful mosaic studio called Smashing Times that sold supplies, led workshops and provided space where you could work on projects. “Doing mosaic” was SO EASY, and I miss those days. Untrash Creative Reuse accepts donations of broken china, mosaic tile and other supplies used for this art form; my dream is to get the gals from Smashing Times to lead workshops for us someday!! What a beautiful way to reuse broken things that deserve to live on.
- Support the recycling/upcycling industry if you do need to “rip out and renovate” and buy new stuff–there’s carpet available made from recycled plastic bottles (our bedrooms have it and it’s super soft and stain resistant); dining tables made from repurposed doors, and many other new, eco-friendly options.
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