Thinking about replacing that leaded glass fan light above your door, but can’t quite afford a $16,000.00 Healy and Millet Sullivanesque stained glass window from the local architectural artifacts dealer? Before you run to Home Depot, pause, for there is hope.
We have a real problem with historic materials stock in the Midwest. We like to bulldoze, build higher and “better” on lots in areas with liberal zoning, and toss most of the crushed and mangled debris into landfills. It’s cheaper–even with landfill penalties–and it’s a heck of a lot faster, so why not?
Fortunately, the City of Chicago is requiring more and more construction and demolition debris be recycled. Contractors now have to keep track of how much waste was generated at project sites and meet the recycling goals set forth in a new ordinance. In 2006, the goal was to recycle 25% of the debris at a job site, in 2007, the goal was 50%. This number keeps going up, though much of the language of the ordinance is wishy-washy and seems to imply that contractors are encouraged to do these things, rather than harshly penalized for not doing them. Also, the ordinance only applies to new residential buildings with four or more units, new non-residential buildings that are more than 4,000 square feet, or buildings requiring a certificate of occupancy (for more on what requires a certificate of occupancy, see Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Website: http://tiny.cc/OmBrh). Um, there are hundreds of thousands of single-family homes, two- and three-flats in this city. Why are they exempt?
And, of course, recycling crushed debris is different from deconstructing a building and using that material stock to restore existing buildings. Unless we have a large, local stock of historic architectural features like windows, doors, molding, etc, the cost to restore an historic building–well, it just doesn’t make economic sense. Preservation should not be elitist. It’s a total turn-off to many–potentially even those who can afford it–and only hurts the movement.
Fortunately, as of February, we finally have a warehouse to store these materials in Chicago at the ReBuilding Exchange, http://www.delta-institute.org/rebuildingexchange/about.php. This initiative will create affordable stock for homeowners, create jobs, and divert literally tons of waste from landfills. Other cities around the the U.S. have had such resources for years, and it has made a huge difference, not only environmentally, but by helping to maintain the historic character of these cities. Once that cornice is gone, it’s gone forever. Nobody is going to spend the money to replicate it.
Material stock warehouses are an absolutely crucial step to making preservation viable. Please donate your items, volunteer, and visit the warehouse to encourage these efforts further.
I mean, old growth lumber, claw foot tubs…what else do you want, people? Paul Hawken estimates in Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, that “For every 100 pounds of product, we create 3,200 pounds of waste.” If you really want to be green, reuse what we already have whenever possible, folks.