New uses for old building materials

By Don MacGillivray

The Rebuilding Center takes in and offers used, salvaged, and reclaimed building and remodeling materials from the community so the materials can be reused in a variety of local building projects affordably.

With this as their mission they have become a large non-profit resource center that strengthens the environmental, economic, and social fabric of Portland’s communities and neighborhoods.

This organization takes the ideas of reduce, reuse and recycle very seriously and they have built a good business around this fundamental environmental concept of the disassembly of homes and buildings.

Everyone has seen a home undergoing demolition. It is not a pretty sight and it is obvious that good lumber and other valuable material is being crushed so a truck can take it to a landfill where it will decompose for many years.

Often there are ways to avoid this kind of mistake and to put these still valuable materials back to work while providing meaningful employment. It just takes creativity, work, and the right connections within the Portland area.

When a 2,000 square foot home is deconstructed rather than totally demolished, thirty-three mature trees are saved from the ax. Almost a half a year’s employment at a living wage is provided, ten tons of fresh, clean water is not wasted, and the equivalent of three years worth of  automobile exhaust is not added to the atmosphere.

The Rebuilding Center often supplies local, grassroots community groups with the materials they need to carry out projects. Their extensive inventory includes plumbing, hardware, lighting, appliances, cabinets, already sawn lumber, windows, toilets, tubs, electrical items, millwork, doors, sinks, tile, and much more. Their inventory is dynamic and changes daily so they’ll periodically send out a list of newly-acquired materials.

Not everything can be recycled, but most things can be kept from becoming part of the waste stream and the donations of reusable building materials are resold at 40 to 90 percent of their market value.

This pays the organization’s operating costs and the remaining value goes back into the community to support a variety of environmental activities and projects thereby saving both material and financial resources.

It promotes sustainability and preserves the earth’s limited resources by diverting waste from landfills and provides marketable used materials.

By making good decisions now, we will avoid limiting the choices of future generations and help to provide for the social and economic needs of present and future generations.

The Rebuilding Center offers valuable work experience, community building tool information, and educational services in the growing deconstruction industry. They have pre-apprenticeship programs that provide hands-on experience for those interested in learning more about the building and the construction business.

In the spring and summer, the Rebuilding Center takes on various projects to provide opportunities for 3-6 month internships as well as other shorter volunteer opportunities. This is a good way for enthusiastic people to learn about and help with the many facets of this organization while helping the community.

By donating, purchasing, and using their store of materials the community is supporting building initiatives, reducing the waste stream, being environmentally responsible, and finding new uses for old things in ways that are both creative and fun.

For more information, see

Various local businesses have grown up around the recycling of building materials. One of these, Salvage Works, began in the Kenton neighborhood in 2010.

Houses that have great style but cannot be rehabilitated often have unique and beautiful parts that can be salvaged and reused to make significant contributions to new creations or unique additions to existing homes and buildings. They use these parts and local, vintage lumber for a variety of new and admirable purposes.

Another innovative idea is Camp SCRAP, a way for children to get involved with the creative reuse of old building materials.

Camp SCRAP partners with a local school that does not have funding for art programs and works with grade school children to explore and create ways to make new things from old, usable discards. The activities are fun and there is time to do independent projects too.

Camp SCRAP has week-long sessions during summer vacation in June and July as well as during Spring vacation. Three day programs are available to teens in middle school.

Portland became the first city in the country to adopt an ordinance that requires full deconstruction of structures built before 1917 or earlier to save affordable, reusable building materials instead of sending them to a landfill.

The Building Material Reuse Association and Earth Advantage are two organizations advocating for saving building materials through reuse. The Rebuilding Center is among the other local non-profits such as, Oregon Tradeswomen, Portland Youth Builders, and the Urban League of Portland that support the deconstruction of older homes.

Visit the City of Portland’s website, for more information about this new City program.

For more information on their programs see

New uses for old building materials

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