It's been a long week for the staff and volunteers of Rebuilding Exchange, as they hauled approximately 500 tons of reclaimed building materials and furniture to a new warehouse across the street.
Since 2009, Bucktown's non-profit Rebuilding Exchange, now located at 1740 W. Webster Ave., has diverted approximately 8,000 tons of usable building materials from landfills. By collaborating with a network of contractors and community-based partners in renovation and full-scale deconstruction projects, the Rebuilding Exchange is dedicated to creating a market for reused materials from Chicago's built environment.
Serving approximately 16,000 customers a year, the Exchange's retail warehouse makes quirky, vintage and rare home features available for purchase. With products ranging from door knobs and chairs to refrigerators and sinks, the prices range from $1 to $1,000, and according to Meegan Czop, director of business development, the warehouse offers unique products for Chicagoans with a "champagne taste and a beer budget."
The retail warehouse has been closed for a week while staff and volunteers moved product to the new location. Although the new 24,000-square-foot warehouse is just across the street, Czop said it has been "exhausting." The Rebuilding Exchange re-opened to the public Thursday.
"When you think about the natural resources that go into these building materials, whether it be wood or steel or iron, we're just trying to give these materials a second life—or maybe even a third or fourth life," said Elise Zelechowski, 33, founder and executive director of the Rebuilding Exchange. A lifelong Chicagoan who splits her time between Humboldt Park and Gary, Ind., Zelechowski spearheaded the ReBuilding Exchange underneath the umbrella of the Delta Institute, a non-profit focusing on green initiatives for the Great Lakes Region.
"If there aren't any immediate recycling markets for these materials they're probably going to end up in a landfill," she said. "And things just aren't made like they used to be; people come in and buy hardwood doors from us all the time, because they need to replace the hollow core door their building was renovated with."
Approximately 40 percent of landfill waste nationwide is comprised of building materials, including wood, drywall, metals, bricks and plastics, according to a 2003 study by the Environmental Protection Agency.
To help Chicagoans experiment with reclaimed building materials, the ReBuilding Exchange offers workshops three days a week.
"We have great instructors who will help you transform cool materials that you see in our warehouse into actual furniture, and you can have it in your home and you can say you made it, which is really neat," said Czop, 34, a Humboldt Park resident who has been with the ReBuilding Exchange since its inception, of the "Make It-Take It" three-hour workshop. "And that brings a lot of people in, who then stay and shop, and it empowers them to really be more action-oriented around how to use reclaimed materials."
Some of the more unique items in the warehouse are two pieces 100-year-old wood. Salvaged from the beams from an industrial building that was deconstructed a few years ago, the Douglas fir wood came from trees aged more than 150 years.
Beyond the retail warehouse, Rebuilding Exchange also offers a line of custom design services for residential, retail and commercial spaces, called RX Made. RX Made furniture, made completely of local, sourced materials, can be found at Logan Square's Bang Bang Pie Shop and Lincoln Park's The Peasantry.
In addition to a staff of 18, the ReBuilding Exchange has more than 160 active volunteers.
"I'm a firm believer in recycling and reusing our natural resources, we all need to do what we can to help save the planet," said Scott Schneider, 57, an architect and resident of Bucktown. Schneider volunteers at the Exchange one or two days a week for two or three hours a day; he used Rebuilding Exchange materials to build a garage for his home.
"You can get some really high-quality products here for a relatively low price," he said.
Ashlee Rezin is a RedEye special contributor.
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