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500-Mile Kitchen Project: Getting Folks On Board

Remodeled kitchen by Integrity Remodeling

This is the second in a series in which I attempt to renovate a kitchen using materials and products manufactured within 500 miles of my home in Berkeley, CA.

I’m really excited about my 500-mile kitchen.  But, it can be a hassle to find everything you need from within 500 miles. It would no doubt be easier to just buy the sub-zero refrigerator we’ve been coveting or the restaurant grade pot rack shelf made in Tennessee. So, with some hesitation, I let my trades people know about my 500 mile plans and held my breath.

Leah Thayer, founder of Daily5Remodel, a digital media publisher for remodeling professionals had this reaction when she learned of the project:

I’d love to know how supportive the remodelers and specialized trade contractors are of your challenge. You live in a wonderful market for locally sourcing artisan-made tile, site-poured concrete counters and salvaged materials, including flooring, windows and sinks — and if you have time to find these materials, more power to you! My concern is that most contractors (even those that follow sustainable practices) prefer to supply the materials they install, for quality control and warranty purposes. They might be willing to work with beautiful salvaged faucets; but salvaged plumbing lines might be another. Also, they typically work with suppliers that draw their materials from all over; even if they want their suppliers to provide locally sourced materials, they may not have the leverage to get that to happen.

This brings up a good point. We live in a global economy and its virtually impossible to source all the raw materials one needs to build a house or even a kitchen from within the United States. So, based on my belief that shipping fully constructed goods, rather than parts, it the most wasteful part of the transportation chain, we all have to live with parts coming from far away.

Lesson #1: For sourcing, do not obsess about going too deep into the supply chain. Some of our trades peeps jumped on board. For example, my cabinet maker, Nadja Pentic of Case 540 got right on board with sourcing the MDF cabinet board from California but insisted that cabinet slides had to come from Austria. In any event, plumbing lines, etc… aren’t being asked for. Its more about finishes, windows, appliances, etc… because finished products are where the heavy, inefficient shipping really comes into play.

As it turns out, all the trades people we are working with seem invigorated by the idea. Our architect, Kristin Personett of Indigo Design Group is totally enthusiastic. I keep lobbing her local resources, like Vintage Timberworks, that manufactures reclaimed wood flooring and she continuously sends me charming notes like: “I’ll check out your undoubtedly cool flooring after I close out this hectic work day. :-)”  And, our general contractor, Eli Israel of Integrity Remodeling, just today sent me this note about two green waste management services, Green Halo Systems and Greenworx:

I am going to push back the demo work until next week.  I am considering using a different demo company since we are really going through the extra effort to make this project as environmentally friendly as possible. I meet with this new company today that specializes in de-construction and recycling.  Demo cost might be a little more but this company will ensure everything gets dealt with and recycled, reused and or donated properly. They even offer a free website that shows you where all stuff went.  It is actually pretty cool stuff.

PS:  I am very excited about the 500-mile kitchen idea.  I think it’s fantastic and an exciting challenge.

Here are a few tips for getting your trades on board:

  • Only work with trades people who are enthusiastic about the concept. If you choose to undertake this kind project you may find (as I did) that your trades people are eager to participate. More and more people and municipalities are moving toward green building practices, and along with them come like-minded vendors and suppliers. Once you find them keep in mind that they are motivated to help you by a number of factors including the desire to satisfy you (the customer), the desire to distinguish their company from competitors and a desire to learn how to reduce costs by reducing waste. Eli of Integrity suggests: “Speak with your general contractor about the look and feel you are trying to achieve.  Discuss everything down to the last details. This is one of the most important things but sounds so simple. The more precise detail, the better.  A local general contractor can add valuable input/resources on where to source or fabricate building materials and finishes.”
  • Give specific guidelines. While many homeowners want to ‘green” their home projects few have formal green criteria in mind. How much extra are you or are you not willing to spend to meet your criteria? How deep into the supply chain do you want to go? Which attributes are requirements and which are preferences? Establishing clear, written standards will eliminate confusion and facilitate on-the-spot decision making. At the same time, Eli reminds us to be flexible with your design” “You may end up making a few detours in order to stand for your cause.  You may have to augment your aesthetic if options are limited, but the cause still stands.”
  • Take cost into account. In many cases, it will be possible to substitute environmentally preferable products without increasing cost. Regardless, as part of your standards, it is reasonable to require that green purchases be made at no more than a certain percentage premium cost parity. Talk to your trades people and vendors. Enlist their support in identifying savings opportunities that help meet your green goals. Before dismissing more expensive alternatives, investigate whether extra costs can be counteracted by higher efficiency, such as energy efficiency or by modest customer surcharges. In addition, you’ll want to figure financial incentives—such as rebates and tax credits into your analysis.
  • Remember reuse (and reconditioning): The idea of reuse is often associated with products that are passed on with little or no reconditioning, repair, or reprocessing. However, increasingly, reuse involves adding value back into used products and materials by taking steps such as cleaning, replacing worn elements, or refilling consumable components (think reclaimed flooring or reconditioned appliances). Look for reconditioned (also called refurbished) materials that are “touched up” or cosmetically improved and then returned to the market for sale. On the other hand, there is often added charm to reused (also called used or as-is) products that are returned to the market for sale without repair or improvement to their appearance. Eli reminds: “If you can’t purchase items locally, there is always a secondary market for just about anything. You would be amazed at what you can find at salvage yards, flea markets, advertised online, etc…”

It’s extra satisfying when your trades people are excited about your project too.  Do you have any good, green trades people or resources for local materials you’d like to recommend?  Please leave their names and website links in the comments.

See also:
500-Mile Kitchen Project: Week 1

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