The two "R"s of green building are reuse and recycle. Reusing construction materials from old houses not only saves usable and often high-quality...

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The two “R”s of green building are reuse and recycle.

Reusing construction materials from old houses not only saves usable and often high-quality materials and architectural features, it also saves energy; every item reused means one that doesn’t have to be made fresh.

Recycling, while consuming energy, keeps construction and demolition waste out of landfills, where it’s estimated to be a large component. Also, recycling fees tend to be lower than disposal fees.

Interest in reuse and recycling is strong in the Seattle area. And it’s not just being driven by tree-hugger idealism. Businesses are making money being green. Four offer a sampling of the depth and breadth of recycled and reused building materials available:

• Seattle’s Environmental Home Center is a major source for building materials made with recycled content, as well as nontoxic paint, insulation and sustainable wood products. Founded in 1992, the company acquired Oregon-based Environmental Building Supplies, giving it locations in Portland and Bend.

• The RE Store, with locations in Ballard and Bellingham, sells what it bills as high-quality building materials at discount prices. It offers pickup, salvage and whole-building deconstruction, providing recovered materials for sale to contractors and home-remodelers.

• Second Use Building Materials in South Seattle says it salvages about 100 tons of building materials a month that would otherwise go to the dump. Its products include doors, windows, masonry, lighting, plumbing fixtures and architectural details.

• Bedrock Industries in Interbay makes tiles using 100 percent recycled glass. It also uses 100 percent recycled materials for packaging and shipping.

Many more such businesses are featured in the Green Pages of the Northwest EcoBuilders Guild, and may be downloaded from

“Salvage and reuse are not a new concept,” said Michael Armstrong, co-owner of Second Use Building Materials. “It’s only been in the last 50 or 60 years that we’ve been so wasteful. Now it’s self-correcting.”

For contractors and homeowners, reuse cuts two ways. If a house is being demolished, reusable items should be taken out with “tender loving care,” Armstrong said.

It’s more deconstruction than demolition. Companies such as Second Use remove and/or pick up materials from houses and other construction sites. The company claims more than 3,000 items in inventory.

Architects, interior designers and contractors who build green in turn seek out items to reuse. “Perfectly serviceable items go back into use so new materials don’t have to be produced,” Armstrong said. “If you’re looking for a 1920s-era window and you can get one out of the same-era house, why not use it?” The reused item may also cost less than a new one.

“Consumer awareness [about green building, recycling and reuse] has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year and a half, two years” said interior designer Sandy Campbell, who operates the One Earth One Design studio. She has spent 18 years as a designer, the past 10 specializing in sustainability. Last November, she opened a “sustainable lifestyle” retail store in north Seattle.

Still, Campbell said, consumers should be careful about some green claims.

“If someone is shopping for flooring or furniture, be sure to ask, ‘What is the source of the wood?’ ” she said. “Some companies are making tables out of reclaimed railroad ties. They’re full of creosote. If the reclaimed wood came from an old barn and it’s painted, you might want to test it for lead.”

Meanwhile, carpeting made of recycled plastic bottles may not address the backing, adhesives or finishes. Campbell urges people to look for natural products.

“Just because something is recycled doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” she said.

Reuse and recycling also get a big push from government. For example, King County’s GreenTools program provides assistance on deconstruction and recycling construction waste, as well as a host of other green building issues.

The county also has an online materials exchange ( with items ranging from doors and insulation to plumbing and floor coverings. Users can place materials for sale or purchase them.

Yet another area being studied is hybrid deconstruction, which seeks a balance between demolition and more labor intensive, and expensive, deconstruction. Increased labor costs and the time needed to deal with contaminated materials can be a disincentive to salvaging building materials.

Campbell sees the trend toward reuse and recycling only increasing. “I certainly hope so, for everyone’s sake. We have to change the way we do things.”

Second Use’s Armstrong said the green building movement is “akin to the organic food movement 20 years ago, and now you find organic food at Safeway.”