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Repairing, reusing, retooling: Area homeowners are finding ways to be green

  • Mary Now of Northampton, center, checks in a chair with a broken leg during Northampton Community RePair run by the Northampton Reuse Committee and DPW at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. "I'm all about fixing things," she said. "My list is very long. I've already fixed this chair but it needs fixing again." GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Geoff Abbott of Amherst fixes a drying rack during Northampton Community RePair run by the Northampton Reuse Committee and DPW at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Gyepi Sam of Northampton, left, teaches Steven Retchin of Leeds how to perform routine maintenance on his bicycle during Northampton Community RePair run by the Northampton Reuse Committee and DPW at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. "A bike is a tool and if you make it work you can have fun," said Sam. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer "Stan-the-Fixit-Man" Pollack of Florence sharpens shears during Northampton Community RePair run by the Northampton Reuse Committee and DPW at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Gyepi Sam of Northampton, left, teaches Steven Retchin of Leeds how to perform routine maintenance on his bicycle during Northampton Community RePair run by the Northampton Reuse Committee and DPW at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Peggy MacLeod installed a solar hot water unit when the old system needed to be replaced for about $300 more than a gas system but she expects to save money in the long run. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

  • Peggy MacLeod of Florence has taken advantage of these programs to install solar panels and more recently a solar hot water system in her Mountain Laurel Path condo. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

  • Peggy MacLeod of Florence has taken advantage of state programs to install solar panels and more recently a solar hot water system in her Mountain Laurel Path condo. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

  • Allison Wyman renovated her bathroom using second-hand materials including this bright orange sink she got for $45. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

  • EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield sells secondhand building materials. Contributed photo—Peter Mauss

  • EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield has a large inventory of secondhand building materials. Contributed photo—Peter Mauss



Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2018

Allison Wyman of Easthampton renovated her bathroom two years ago with discarded building materials. She found a secondhand bright orange kitchen sink, mosaic tiles and used cabinet drawers at EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield and designed a creative and functional space for a fraction of what it might have cost if she’d shopped elsewhere.

“I love it,” Wyman said of the sink she got for $45. “You can wash your hair in this. You can wash your kids in here. It’s better value. If you have a couple hundred bucks you can get some junky thing from a box store, or, find items that have character.” 

EcoBuilding Bargains is the largest used building materials store in New England, according to the organization’s website. The Springfield store stocks reused and surplus materials including cabinets, architectural salvage, lumber, doors, windows, tile, appliances, lighting fixtures and furniture.

For her creativity, Wyman won the store’s 2016 Reuse Rockstar Competition. She spent a total of around $1,000 for her entire project, including a custom countertop, cabinets and wall tile. Submissions for this year’s competition, which coincides with Earth Day Sunday, are currently being accepted.

Shopping for secondhand building materials and repairing broken items instead of throwing them away is fiscally smart, Wyman points out. But it also benefits the environment; items doesn’t get discarded — creating additional pollution — and it cuts down on the need to manufacture new products.

“The amount of raw material that’s required to keep up with our consumption of new products is finite,” said Susan Waite, waste reduction coordinator at Northampton’s Department of Public Works. “If we continue to purchase new products instead of repairing what we have, we’ll run out of resources — we’re already running out of resources.”

Working with the city’s Reuse Committee, Waite oversees the Northampton ReCenter Swap Shop at the Glendale Road Transfer Station, which accepts home goods and furnishings for reuse by others. Additionally, the committee organizes free Community RePair events a few times each year, connecting handy volunteers with those who might not have the expertise to fix broken items.

Over the years, Waite says, she’s seen quality home items move through the swap shop. Once, “Somebody essentially furnished a full apartment with materials from the ReCenter,” she said. But in order for materials to be reused by people like Wyman, she notes, others have to donate old materials instead of throwing them away.

Increasing efficiency

In addition to reusing materials, another way to save money and cut down on environmental impact is to make homes more energy efficient.

“Each individual person and business can make a difference,” said John Majercak, president of the Center for EcoTechnology, a Northampton-based nonprofit green energy agency that runs EcoBuilding Bargains. “When you look at your environmental footprint, your energy use at home is a big part of it.”

Mass Save, a collaborative of Massachusetts’ natural gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers offers free energy audits, home weatherization, LED light bulbs, and incentives to make energy efficient upgrades more accessible at affordable prices, Majercak says.

“Sometimes, for $500 you can get your entire attic insulated.”

Majercak compared an unsealed and uninsulated house to leaving your front door open in the middle of winter, “which of course we would never do, it’s too wasteful,” he said. “But that’s what we’re doing all across the house until we fix it.”

Help for homeowners

Massachusetts leads the United States in clean energy policy initiatives because of programs like Mass Save, he says. In addition to it, there are a number of incentive programs — including through the state Clean Energy Center, an economic development agency promoting growth in the state’s clean energy sector — for homeowners to implement renewable energy technologies.

Over the years, Peggy MacLeod of Florence has taken advantage of these programs to install solar panels and more recently a solar hot water system in her Mountain Laurel Path condo. She installed the solar hot water unit when the old system needed to be replaced for about $300 more than a gas system, and expects to save money in the long run.

“It’s a mindset. Do I take a vacation in Hawaii, or do I get my solar hot water?” MacLeod asked, pointing out the solar panels and a new solar hot water system on the roof. “Sometimes it takes a little push to do these things. But then when you’re done, you say ‘why didn’t I do that 10 years ago?’ ”

MacLeod has adopted an environmentally conscious approach that influences every aspect of her life. Earlier in her career she worked at The Center for EcoTechnology, and now helps oversee the Western Mass Pollinator Networks, a nonprofit environmental organization focused on helping bees.

Below the solar panels on MacLeod’s front porch, she’s building a small office addition using secondhand materials. Living in a way that’s sustainable for the environment has become a lifestyle for her, she says, which influences every facet of her life. She bikes when she can instead of driving her Toyota Prius, hang-dries laundry, recycles plastic, composts and reuses materials as often as possible. 

Ultimately, what has influenced her actions the most is seeing the impact of climate change firsthand. 

“When it starts to affect your favorite beach, or hiking path, then your lifestyle changes,” she said. “You can make a checklist of all the things you can do, but you should get out into nature.” Because if don’t, she said, “it’s just a checklist.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

How to connect

For more information and to see the inventory at Eco Building Bargains, visit www.ecobuildingbargains.org. The ReCenter Swap Shop can be found at https://bit.ly/2HGGPXG. More on state incentives can be found at  www.masscec.com/get-clean-energy and www.masssave.com

The Reuse Committee will put on a Spring Recycling Rally April 28, followed by a Garden Pot Collection and Swap on May 12, a Household Hazardous Waste Collection, May 19, and Community RePair event on June 16 from noon to 4 p.m. All events will be held at Smith Vocational and Agricultural School, 80 Locust St. in  Northampton.