As editor of the Topeka-based magazine Natural, Home & Garden, Jessica Kellner had plenty of stories of families and organizations from across the country who had built their homes from materials that were otherwise destined for the landfill.
But it wasn’t until the housing crisis hit that Kellner connected the need for building affordable housing with the drive to reduce waste.
Here’s the numbers that convinced her. The stock of affordable housing is about 4 million homes shy. Meanwhile, each year 250,000 homes are demolished and 125 million tons of construction debris are sent to the landfill.
“There is a fundamental paradox here. We are in need of low income housing and we need houses that people can actually afford, instead of everyone taking out these mortgages that we can’t pay back. At the same time, we are demolishing all these homes and taking them straight to the landfill,” Kellner said.
In her recently published book “Housing Reclaimed,” Kellner tells stories of folks who built their homes piece-by-piece with items uncovered in salvage yards and demolition sites.
The homeowners Kellner interviewed needed time to amass a collection reclaimed materials, a core group of friends and family that could help them build and lots of food to keep those helpers happy. In the end the homeowners had a home that took more time to build, but was far cheaper and already filled with memories.
“They said we never could have done this in a conventional manner. We never could have taken out a loan for hundreds of thousands of dollars. We did it this way and we love our home,” Kellner said.
The first piece of advice Kellner gives is to find a shed to store the reclaimed materials and then make connections to the people who are throwing out items in the landfill.
Kellner wrote about an Idaho couple who was able to obtain much of their building materials from a 10,000-square-foot home that was being deconstructed in Jackson, Wyo.
Five years after they finished building their home, phone calls kept coming in about quality items that were slated for the dump.
“People don’t want to waste things. People don’t feel comfortable just throwing 10-year-old high efficiency windows in the landfill. No one likes that. So (people) would call and say ‘can you use them we don’t want to throw it away,’ ” Kellner said.
Kellner, who lives in Lawrence, doesn’t have a home built of reclaimed materials. But much of her furniture and decorations are from antique stores. And, the previous owner, who remodeled the house, used reclaimed wood on the lofts and light fixtures.
That’s one way to start small, she said.
“We have made so much stuff that pretty much everything we need you would be able to find it used or you would be able to find it at an antique store,” she said.
Case in point, Kellner was able to furnish the dining room, including a table, buffet and chairs, for under $60.
“It is probably less expensive, it is going to have a history and it is going to probably fit into the look of my house better,” Kellner said of what she finds at antique stores versus traditional retail stores.
From there Kellner said homeowners might want to consider using reclaimed materials for remodeling or additions. The Idaho couple Kellner featured in the book built a guest house and office out of an old grain bin. She also said old shipping containers could be use for a second structure.
“If you wanted to go a little bit further but not the whole way toward building a house, that might be one way to experiment,” Kellner said.
Above all, Kellner said to be open-minded and creative in what materials can be used in a home. One of the affordable housing organizations in Kellner’s books accepted 15,000 unwanted CDs that were later used to create a mosaic.
“You don’t have to do everything the standard way,” Kellner said.