Have you seen our June newsletter yet? There are lots of good sales and fun events going on, and we’ve got new, expanded summer hours!
By Elizabeth McGowan
Mary and Scott Sibley didn’t expect that building a rear addition onto their Victorian era home in the Hyattsville National Historic District would be a simple undertaking.
And they were right.
But by hunkering down with architect Mike Arnold, they received the appropriate and far-from-routine blessings from the Prince George’s County Historic Commission and the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. Construction on the family room they have been craving began just this week. In the meantime, the Sibleys are brainstorming about how to properly decorate the 18-feet by 20-feet extension so it flows with the interior of the rest of their three-story, 1906 home.
Hardwood floors are a no-brainer. Eight double-hung, single-pane windows framed with bulls-eye molding will extend almost the entire nine feet from floor to ceiling.
The centerpiece of the addition will be a fireplace. With Arnold’s help, the Sibleys found a reproduction of a 19th century cast iron insert. However, they had a devil of a time hunting down a proper mantelpiece.
“We’ll scour the whole East Coast to find what we need for this house,” Mary Sibley said. “We knew we didn’t want one of those fake new plastic mantels that are supposed to look like something Victorian. This time, we shopped all around and still couldn’t find what we needed.”
That is, until they literally went around the corner to the Community Forklift’s 34,000-square foot warehouse a few months ago. Bingo. They scouted out an authentic fit. A yellowing paper tag attached to the back of the double-shelved, oak antique they selected spells out that the Dame Mantel Co. in Harriman, Tenn., delivered the finished product to Washington, D.C., in 1910.
And the Forklift price was right: $225. The Hyattsville couple had expected to shell out $1,500 to $2,000 for a reproduction.
“We were just thrilled to find something we can use so close by,” Mary Sibley said. “Our goal is to buy as few new products as possible.”
Arnold, their Riverdale Park architect who specializes in historic preservation, casts the Sibleys and others like them who make regular forays to the Forklift into a category he labels “defective consumer.” He credits one of his graduate school professors with coining that distinctive phraseology. While such offbeat language might sound like a pejorative to the uninitiated, Arnold actually dishes the two-word term as the ultimate accolade.
What Arnold means is that homeowners such as the Sibleys should be celebrated because they refuse to be brainwashed by the messages that bombard them daily in a throwaway culture that pooh-poohs what appears to be passé. Instead, they reject the consensus that an item must be brand new and out of the box to have any value.
“Forklift shoppers don’t follow the status quo,” said the 55-year-old, who earned a graduate degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005. “They understand that used stuff is actually useful. Fortunately, we’re seeing a resurgence of people who get this concept.”
Arnold’s initiation into architecture and preservation began more than three decades ago when he enrolled at the University of Maryland. Later on, he taught Maryland students the hands-on ABCs of restoration.
When he eventually opened his own architecture business, he opted to focus on preservation, with a focus on pre-World War II homes.
“Clients with old buildings are much more engaged because they’ve invested a certain amount of love in what they own,” Arnold explained, adding that such homeowners understand the legacy they are protecting. “For them, this is about stewardship instead of ownership. It’s not about being me-centric. You learn to adapt to your old building instead of expecting it to adapt to you.”
He estimates that somewhere around 25 percent of his clients are comfortable with the concept of reuse, so they already know the value of the Forklift and other similar treasure troves. Others, he said, have to be nudged in that direction so they can understand that there is “gold in them thar hills at the Forklift.” Sometimes, the challenge can be finding enough reclaimed materials to complete a substantial addition.
It pains him physically and emotionally to watch older homes in nearby neighborhoods be stripped of riches such as irreplaceable pre-1940s, double-hung wood windows because their owners have fallen for the myth of vinyl. Usually, he said, the original windows are trashed before anybody can retrieve them.
Window sashes from the 1920s and 1930s are a premium product because they were machine manufactured from old-growth wood, he noted, adding that covering them with top-notch triple-track storm windows provides the ultimate in energy efficiency and insulation.
“They’re just buying into a replacement system that the next owner will pay for,” Arnold said. “People make such short-term decisions. Instead of acting like long-term stewards, so many Americans treat their buildings as if they are a 10-year investment.”
Arnold doesn’t just dole out advice. He also heeds his own sermons. For instance, he is intent on restoring the tasteful grandeur of his office at 6220 Rhode Island Ave., home of Riverdale Park’s first post office. Tin ceilings and bits of molding are hints of its 1924 glory. Recently, he installed a pair of interior chestnut doors he uncovered at the Forklift. In addition, he serves as vice chairman of Prince George’s County Heritage, an organization dedicated to promoting historic preservation countywide
Arnold’s dedication to the preservation cause is echoed by Alfonso Narvaez, chairman of Prince George’s County Historical and Cultural Trust.
“It takes a special breed of homeowner to avoid Home Depot,” Narvaez said. “It’s somebody who cares enough to want it to be just right.”
He saluted the Forklift for providing two crucial services. One, it’s a repository for materials such as sinks, bathtubs and mantels with defining features of this particular region of Maryland.
“Prince George’s County is losing lots of historic buildings,” he emphasized. “It’s appropriate to keep those items in the county so they can be used locally for authenticity and sustainability. That makes the Forklift a historical resource.”
And two, Narvaez said, the Forklift allows homeowners to see a complete house disassembled so they understand how it can be put back together with the appropriate pieces.
“Lots of times, homeowners don’t have a clue,” he said. “They think something like windows can’t be repaired until they go to the Forklift and see the pieces they need to fix it.”
Narvaez knows of what he speaks. Professionally, he operates Aeon Preservation Services, a Bladensburg-based business that has tended to such iconic landmarks as the U.S. Capitol dome, the White House grounds, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. In that capacity, his company once collected a smorgasbord of brick, marble, granite and terra cotta to teach professional conservators gathered at Arlington National Cemetery how to restore these building materials.
Unique places such as Community Forklift, Arnold and Narvaez agree, become more and more vital as the lumberyards, hardware stores and custom millwork shops of yesteryear disappear.
“If not for the Forklift, all those old building materials and their embedded energy are lost forever in landfills,” Arnold said. “It’s part of that cradle-to-cradle process.”
The Sibleys, who moved to the Washington, D.C., region in the mid-1970s, purchased their current Victorian home in 1989 when their two sons were in elementary school because they “wanted an old house.” The couple is still plugging away on their pet project almost a quarter-century later.
Some enterprises during those 24 intervening years are new, such as refinishing banisters and balusters, while others are repeats, such as repainting the entire house and porch with a distinctive green complemented by trim that is dark green, orange and cream.
Scott, a retired federal geologist, and Mary, who built a career in day care and as a special education teacher, are hoping their home is in tip-top shape for the spring 2014 house tour being organized by the Hyattsville Preservation Association. The addition of family room became a necessity with the birth of Jake, their first grandchild, 17 months ago. They expect he won’t be the last arrival.
Both Sibleys will continue to haunt the aisles of the Forklift and other local businesses to track down house necessities they can reuse.
“Anyplace that is Hyattsville-based, we like to frequent,” Mary Sibley said. “That way we can do our part to see to it that it doesn’t go under.”
By Elizabeth McGowan
Regular customers are fully aware that Community Forklift sells sinks—and plenty of them. But they likely don’t know that the nonprofit is actually a sizeable carbon sink itself because of its eco-friendly business model.
Capturing such a volume of heat-trapping gases means the Forklift is keeping significantly more air pollutants out of the atmosphere than it adds. And that relatively tiny carbon footprint is a welcome balm to a warming planet where carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are so abundant that the entire world’s climate is being altered.
And why else does the Forklift’s footprint matter? Well, in a nutshell, it’s solid, on-the-ground validation that keeping building materials out of landfills and incinerators isn’t just mushy, feel-good chatter. Instead, it’s irrefutable evidence that recycling at every level is environmentally and economically sound.
Bradley Guy, who has examined most every aspect of building deconstruction and reuse since the mid-1990s, is the brave soul who relished delving into the laborious, spreadsheet-heavy research at the Forklift in 2011. By 2012, he and a graduate student turned the numbers they collected into a preliminary study with the title, “Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Assessment of Building Materials Reuse Services.” That academic mouthful merely means they measured the Forklift’s overall carbon impact.
Guy is an assistant professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Architecture and Planning, as well as an associate director for the university’s Center for Building Stewardship.
After crunching his data, Guy found that on an annual basis the Forklift prevented the emissions of the equivalent of 360 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That sounds impressive but it is perhaps more meaningful when applied practically. Here’s how those 360 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent translates. It’s the same as keeping 242 passenger vehicles off the road for a year. It’s also how much carbon dioxide is emitted annually by a traditional power plant providing electricity to 175 homes. Or put another way, it’s the amount of carbon stored by 300 acres of pine or fir forests.
“The reuse business is a hard one,” Guy said about why he undertook the study. “Most of the stores are nonprofits. This involves a lot of volunteers and you can sell the stuff for only so much. For me, this is about searching for additional tools, what I call value tools, to find extra income. It’s a way of potentially monetizing the value of an environmental benefit.”
One value tool his study uncovered is the moneymaking potential of being a carbon sink, or what Guy calls the “carbon dioxide avoidance benefit.” Reuse stores such as the Forklift could play their green status to an advantage by earning dollars in the existing voluntary carbon offset market. That is, as part of a far-reaching greenhouse gas balancing act, businesses or individuals with excess emissions could pay reuse stores that spew so little carbon. In addition, places such as the Forklift could benefit financially if the U.S. Congress ever crafts a federal carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system centered on greenhouse gases.
“I didn’t have any preconceptions going into this study,” said Guy, founder of the Building Materials Reuse Association, a trade organization for Forklift-like enterprises. “I’m sort of a gadfly. Wherever I’ve lived, looking up reuse stores and somehow becoming involved with them has been a vocation.
“The inside joke has always been that reuse stores should be able to make a note on each receipt reading ‘By making this purchase you have avoided so many tons of emissions.’ This study is getting at that.”
His examination of the Forklift wasn’t as simple as plugging known figures into one-size-fits all chart. It was much more intense and tedious process.
First he had to design a questionnaire for Forklift customers. For two summer weeks, he stood near the loading dock asking shoppers how far they had driven, what type of vehicle they drove, if they had also made a donation that day, what they had purchased and how exactly they would be using the materials they bought. Answers to that last question proved to Guy that customers were actually substituting what they had purchased for new materials they could have bought at a big-box store.
Then, because the Forklift lacks a uniform inventory tracking system, he pored over donor records and at least 8,000 handwritten tickets written up by the Forklift sales staff. Each item was coded and entered in a spreadsheet that included prices. From that, he was able to extrapolate how many doors, windows, appliances, 2-by-4 boards, tools and other materials exit the 34,000-square foot Edmonston warehouse annually.
But knowing the amount and monetary value of each item wasn’t enough. One of the trickier parts involved reviewing numbers from varying economic sectors to match up the greenhouse gas emissions involved in the initial production of the building materials donated to the Forklift. An economic input-output estimator developed by Carnegie Mellon University came in handy for that. The magic with reuse is that those production emissions are avoided the second time around.
To round out the footprint calculations, Guy used models from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to figure out how much carbon Forklift employees expelled commuting to work, as well as what the nonprofit discharged to fuel the trucks that pick up donations and to power, heat and cool its building. The Forklift scored extra points for purchasing 100 percent of its electricity from Wind Power via Clean Currents. He also computed how the Forklift disposed of its solid waste and recycling.
Guy’s math showed that picking up donations around the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region in a diesel-fueled box truck is by far the nonprofit’s “dirtiest” activity. That accounts for close to 45 percent of the annual 489 metric tons of greenhouse gases produced by Forklift operations.
“That just begs the question about how you reduce those emissions if you want to go as far as you can with the net benefit,” Guy said. “You could just not have pickups, or you could have satellite drop-off sites. But the questions become, is that viable and how would you man those mini-drop-offs?”
Still, he noted that the big-picture arithmetic reveals that the minus of the energy-intensive pickup system is outweighed by the pluses of making surplus and salvage building materials available to the local community and being diligent about recycling every ounce of scrap metal. That combination, he added, is a winner because of the overall net environmental benefit.
Guy’s research indicated that customers traveled an average of 17 miles one-way to reach the Forklift.
“That’s not that far and it indicates how a reuse store is all about local purchasing and the local economy,” he said, adding that a robust reuse industry could likely thrive with such stores located every 40 or so miles apart. “This is really important because it shows that local communities are not exporting ‘waste’ and they are not importing lumber from Canada. Reuse is proof of a local, closed-loop system.”
Forklift customers aren’t soiling their own nests, he said, because they are buying their neighbors’ stuff that was rescued from an untimely death at the dump or in an incinerator.
“Basically, you’re supporting your local community,” Guy concluded. “In a way, you’re being more virtuous, so you should buy as much as you need.”
By Elizabeth McGowan
When Jose Ortiz enrolled in medical school in his native Honduras, he expected to eventually apply his healing touch to broken bones, upset stomachs and ailing organs.
But then life intervened. He fell in love with a fellow student, Denise Cintron, and soon bravely followed her to her family’s home county of Prince George’s after they married in November 2004. Memories of studying medicine faded as Denise pursued a career as an office manager and Jose cleaned roof gutters by day while earning certification as a plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist at night.
Now Jose applies his doctoring skills to aching homes in the Washington, D.C., region. These days, his main “patient” is the 73-year-old Capitol Heights, Maryland, bungalow the couple bought in August 2009. Jose and Denise are resuscitating their little tan house—from the drain of its basement sump pump to the peak of its asphalt shingle roof—with supplies and tools from the Community Forklift.
Hardwood floors, ceramic tiles, a large glass block window, a stainless steel kitchen sink, kitchen cupboards, bathroom vanities, carpet squares in a walk-in closet, ceiling light covers, vents, light switch covers, and yards of trim and molding are just some of the evidence of their discovery of the surplus and salvage jackpot in Edmonston.
“It’s so awesome at the Forklift,” Denise, 29, says while walking across the odd lots of handsome hardwood flooring that Jose painstakingly pieced together in appealing patterns in both the living room and front hallway. “You have to know what you are looking for but there are really good deals. And what you don’t you use, you can donate back.”
“We knew we didn’t want carpet,” Jose, 34, chimes in, adding how elated he was to rip out the hideous carpet they inherited with the house. “It just took us a while to figure out the look we wanted.”
Forklift staffers are familiar with the family’s prolific and epic ventures to the 40,000-square foot warehouse. Jose, with his distinctive black ringlets, inches his way down each aisle methodically, measuring once, twice and perhaps three times to make sure no matter what he buys is a sound investment. Several hours later, his cart will be stuffed with a motley and unwieldy collection of necessities that go into the guts of most every house—a garbage disposal, screws, nails, valves, angle iron, PVC and copper pipes, paint cans, drywall mesh, sheetrock compound and grout.
Not far away, Denise, mingles exuberantly with Forklift staffers and customers, and periodically reminds Jose that Joaquin—their almost two-year-old toddler who inherited his father’s black curls—is becoming a bit antsy.
Yes, they both agree, their home improvement projects would proceed much more rapidly if they shopped exclusively at big box stores. But they are willing to follow the slower route because of the magnetic pull of the Community Forklift’s hot coffee, monthly specials, discounted prices, funky inventory, welcoming staff and offbeat events.
“When I saw the announcement for that, I told Jose we had to go,” Denise says. “That was so much fun. We really enjoyed it.”
Browsing at the Forklift allows them to stumble across such unexpected treasures as the wooden table base they unearthed recently. Topping it off with the circular piece of marble they’ve been storing in their living room for close to two years means they will finally have the dining room table they’ve always craved.
“The way I look at it is, if you don’t have a lot of time you have to spend a lot of money,” says Denise, who earns her living as a translator and interpreter. “But if you have time, you don’t have a lot of money to spend. We’re willing to be patient.”
Irrefutable proof of their frequent Forklift forays is visible from the foot of the basement steps where a ceiling light fixture glows. Its distinctive orange price tag is still attached to its outer rim.
Their purchases helped the Community Forklift surpass $1 million in sales in 2012—the first time it has done so in its seven-year existence.
Denise and Jose’s first Forklift encounter happened years before they even purchased their home. An Edmonston business owner directed them to Tanglewood Drive in their search for appliances that would fit in the series of apartments they once called home. Renting one tiny apartment the size of a walk-in closet allowed them to save for a house down payment.
They are so thrilled to be homeowners, it’s a minor inconvenience for them to tolerate constant upheaval, wade through piles of sawdust, endure three weeks without a kitchen and resort to digging a drainage trench around the house’s foundation to keep water from entering a basement that they had to tear out and replace because of a severe mold infestation.
“I figured, we had lived in a closet at one point in our lives,” Denise says, displaying her usual optimistic disposition. “What couldn’t we do, even with a house that had problems?”
Now, they are likely just a few weeks away from renting out the tidy Forklift-themed apartment they’re close to completing in the basement.
When their friends observe the amount of repurposing that Denise and Jose have so cleverly executed throughout their home, they assume the couple has a deep green streak.
It’s more about sticking to a budget than the three R’s, Denise says.
“We do stuff that is environmentally conscious but we don’t really think of ourselves as environmentalists,” she concludes. “We just like to save money. What we don’t have to spend on the house we can spend on other things.”
Did you see our September newsletter? We have free plaster, fun fall festivals, and maybe we’ll even have first place (if you vote for us in the Washington Post Express contest!). We’ve got a bunch of sales too, and Mr. Fix-It will share tips on painting and door installation. Click here for all the details!
Community Forklift has been discovered by Hollywood! Or at least by production crews…
Community Forklift had the chance to interview Albert Kreis, the owner of Fairview Glass, which is a full service window and door restoration company. Located in Frederick, MD, they create custom made screen doors, screen or glass inserts for original convertible storm doors, and offer custom made energy saving invisible storm panels and screens for windows. Albert will be coming to Community Forklift sometime soon to do an “Ask-the-Expert” session, so keep an eye out for more information!
CF: How did you first get into window and door restoration?
Albert: I started with a passion for historical preservation and love of old houses. At first, I just supplied the old wavy glass by working out of my shed, salvaging it out, and selling it for restoration projects. As the years went on, I was asked to do more and more restoration work, which I usually said yes to. Eventually, I finally was able to transition full time into the window work.
CF: What has been one of your favorite projects?
Albert: It’s hard to say, but I love the small specialty projects. For example, I just built a door for a potting shed using two salvaged window sashes and the top sash still functioned as a window and is able to be opened. Another memorable project was the Waterford Virginia Schoolhouse. It was almost destroyed by fire, and what the fire didn’t destroy, the firemen did! We were able to completely rebuild the windows to like-new condition. One other t
hing that gives me great satisfaction is knowing that my glass has been in a lot of places, including movies, Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace museum, the Henry Ford Museum, Disney, and many other historical sites.
CF: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Albert: My favorite thing is that I am able to do my own thing and at the same time I am directly helping to save old glass and many historical windows.
CF: How did you learn about Community Forklift? Have you shopped or donated materials?
Albert: I have shopped there but haven’t donated yet. I learned about Community Forklift through the restoration community grapevine.
CF: How do people figure out whether they should repair or replace their windows? How do the costs compare?
Albert: Well, it depends on how bad the current windows are and how much repair is needed. Sometimes the cost of restoring windows is much less than getting new custom wood windows, and sometimes it’s about even. However if the cost is about even, choosing to restore windows has the advantage of still having the unique look of original windows, but with upgraded efficiency. Not only that, the restored windows will probably last another 100 years and be as efficient as most replacement windows.
CF: What kind of resources do you use for getting the historically accurate materials you need?
Albert: Definitely the restoration community grapevine and the Internet.
CF: Where are you located, and where do you operate in the region?
Albert: We are located in Frederick, MD but we operate throughout Maryland, Virginia, Southern Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Below are before, during, and after pictures of fantastic restoration work done on a door! For more pictures, visit Fairview Glass’ Facebook page.