When Hank Trotter purchased metal panels from Home Resource, he received a handwritten receipt for “rusty tin roofing.” The “rusty tin roofing” would be mounted as siding on Trotter’s 680-square-foot Westside apartment. Siding was only one of many used materials Trotter purchased from Home Resource as he converted his two-car garage into a two-bedroom apartment.
Home Resource collects and sells used and surplus building materials that builders and remodelers would otherwise take to a landfill. On Sept. 18, the nonprofit company will celebrate its first anniversary.
“Something that seems to be shocking to a lot of people is that we make money,” says co-director Matt Hisel. Hisel learned that recycled building materials might be lucrative when he worked as site manager for the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project. “They had a little free-for-all salvage yard,” he says, and he fielded many requests for used materials. “It was apparent to me that there was a huge demand.”
Before Home Resource opened its doors last September, Hisel calculated various business plans based on data from similar companies. He and co-director Lauren Varney selected the plan with the most conservative projections. Then, they exceeded those estimates. In its first year, Home Resource grossed $130,000—48 percent more than projected. Hisel and Varney were able to hire two part-time employees months earlier than expected.
While the company appears to be on solid financial footing, Hisel and Varney saw their share of challenges the first year. The owner of the Women’s Club—who is also Home Resource’s lease-holder—had planned to expand the club, which shared part of the warehouse Home Resource rents. Home Resource had spilled into a portion slated for expansion; in January, they had to consolidate. “We had to move all our toilets and sinks outside in the middle of winter,” says Hisel. “That was just a nightmare.” Outside in the salvage yard, half of the porcelain materials cracked, he says.
Another challenge, says Hisel, is getting the message of sustainability out to more than the choir. He’d like to reach beyond people who already espouse the company’s ethic of reuse. He hopes to reach a greater audience during Saturday’s anniversary celebration.
Hisel estimates that the company diverted 218 tons of materials from the landfill in its first year.
In the salvage yard sits a sea of baby-shower-colored porcelain toilets.
“Toilets,” Hisel says, “are the funniest thing we sell here.” The most popular items are cabinets. Dimensional lumber, like 2x4s or 2x6s, is also in high demand. Home Resource has a long waiting list of people seeking claw-foot tubs.
During its first year, the business attracted a cadre of loyal followers—builders and remodelers looking for a sweet deal.
Tim Lovely is one such. He remodels homes, and he swings by the Home Resource salvage yard at 825 W. Kent Ave. at least once a week. “The notion of reusing things and not sending them to the landfill, well, if you believe in that sort of thing, it’s next to godliness,” he says. Lovely donates, too. Before he discovered Home Resource, his used materials went to the dump. Lovely patronizes Home Resource both because he appreciates sustainable building and because the price is good; he also saves his clients money, and they like the reused material. “Most of them think it’s really cool,” he says.
One of Hank Trotter’s tenants “fell in love” with the small apartment after he realized that the “rusty tin roofing” wasn’t what it looked like when he first saw it: rotting wood. Trotter walks through the well-lit apartment pointing out materials he acquired from Home Resource. Three supporting beams, hefty 3x10s, span the living area. They were salvaged from an old barn, says Trotter, who cleaned and varnished them himself. He knocks on an interior door, one of three purchased from Home Resource. “They’re not hollow,” he says. “They’re nice, solid doors.” Four kitchen cabinets are salvaged, too—fir, he says, not pressboard. Trotter says you don’t always find exactly what you’re seeking at Home Resource. “You have to be flexible,” he says. One kitchen cabinet is narrower than the counter’s width, so Trotter designed a slot where the tenants now keep a muffin tin and cookie sheet. Another cabinet was shorter than the countertop, so Trotter left an open slat where the tenants store a cutting board. His adaptations haven’t been popular with all his neighbors. Initially, some complained about the mottled tin roofing he used for siding. Now, he says, most have complimented him on the apartment and the industrial feel of its exterior. “I believe at least one of them,” he says.
Trotter spent $1,039 on materials from Home Resource. Some needed finishing and cleaning, but the work was worthwhile, he believes. He estimates that comparable materials would have cost $3,095 new.
Home Resource’s anniversary party will take place on Saturday, Sept. 18, from noon to 4 p.m. at 825 W. Kent Ave. Admission is free and includes grilled Hutterite chicken and organic salad. The Hayrollers and Amy Holtz will provide music. Along with other demonstrations, says Hisel, volunteers will build a strawbale wall. He hopes to show that strawbale construction is “not like the three little piggies, where it’s going to burn down.”