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From trash to treasure

Scott Condon The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – Aspen Village residents Eric Ward and August Casal provide proof positive that being green pays financial awards.

Over the past six months they removed a trailer from their lot and built a house that is a recycling marvel. They plucked high-end kitchen appliances as well as cabinets and cupboards from the butler’s kitchen in a Castle Creek Valley house destined to be torn down. They otherwise wouldn’t have been able to purchase the Sub-Zero Refrigerator or the commercial-grade range and hood.

The engineered oak-laminate flooring that adorns some of the rooms of their house would have cost $8 to $12 per square foot if they paid retail. Instead they got it for $2 per square foot out of an Owl Creek house that had a date with the wrecking crew.



Once Ward and Casal came up with their plan to build a house, they got into the habit of shopping at Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley’s resale store, ReStore, for anything that would be useful. As construction time drew near, they got to know the Habitat staff and learned about opportunities to salvage materials and appliances from houses that were going to be torn down.

Habitat for Humanity often benefits when an Aspen hotel remodels or when homeowners buy a house furnished in a style they don’t like. The property owners donate the unwanted items to Habitat – everything from toilets to dining-room tables and from refrigerators to drapery – for a tax credit.



In other cases, homeowners will donate entire houses to Habitat so that building materials and appliances can be salvaged and resold. Habitat holds semipublic sessions in which people building homes can check out the houses for materials, appliances and furnishings.

Ward and Casal became adept at cruising through the doomed houses, quickly assessing what they could use and laying claim. Chic, distressed-looking barn board from the Owl Creek house made a great addition to the Aspen Village home’s soffit. Over-ordered toilets, sinks and solid wood doors, already stained, came from a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Vail area.

“The stuff that we bought adds up to about $50,000 (in value),” Ward said. “We paid about $10,000.”

Their house is the poster child for what Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter envisions for ReStore, said chapter president Scott Gilbert. He sees the store just off Highway 82 at Cattle Creek as a “transfer station” where items salvaged from high-end residences and properties are offered to local homebuilders of more modest means.

“We’re not a thrift store selling cheap stuff,” Gilbert said.

Don and Marcia Flaks discovered that the ReStore is a treasure trove after moving to Missouri Heights from New York last year. They are buying the house that they are currently renting. Although they are in a position to shop where they please, they visit the ReStore regularly because of the quality of the merchandise. They found a dining-room table, chairs, several beds and even some artwork at the ReStore.

“My wife is constantly going back and forth looking for more,” Flaks said. “Anybody looking for furniture should definitely have this as part of their routine, whatever bracket they’re in.”

Ward and Casal didn’t rely solely on Habitat for recycled materials for their house. A “sucker rod” from an oil rig provides support for the main stairs in their 2,200-square-foot house. The wood for the stair stringers and a massive wood beam came from a 100-year-old ice rink in Pennsylvania. Other interior finish wood was salvaged from a Pickle Barrel restaurant that closed.

The exterior of their house is partially covered with corrugated steel leftover from a ranch near Lenado. White siding was salvaged when the Aspen Square building was remodeled.

“Being a scrounger, I don’t like to see anything get thrown away,” said Ward, a carpenter by summer and foot alignment specialist by winter. He estimated that up to 75 percent of the materials for the house came from other structures – everything but the framing, sheetrock, concrete and roof.

Ward said he is of Scottish descent, so he’s naturally thrifty. He grew up in Maine and learned from his grandfather that there often is value in what others discard.

“He was a super scrounger,” he said.

Casal, a native of Argentina who is a ski instructor, said she has become “obsessed” with recycling after seeing all the materials that get thrown away in the Aspen area.

Plucking materials out of tear-down houses isn’t for everyone. Ward acknowledged that it requires some vision and skill. For instance, he had to alter some beautifully stained shelving to fit into the master bedroom, which has steeply pitched walls.

Ward drew the plans for the house himself then had them checked by architect Glenn Rappaport. Jack Albright did the engineering. The money that Ward and Casal saved from the recycled materials allowed them to install a solar heating system. Mike Tierney, of Aspen Solar, installed the infrastructure. Ward and Casal will add solar panels that will help produce hot water and heat the house at a later date.

Ward and Casal hope that their home inspires other people to consider shopping at the ReStore for appliances and furnishings and to check out recycled building materials.

“This house is a good example of what you can do with recycling. The thing that makes it cool is it’s all used,” Ward said. “It should be illegal that stuff ends up in Dumpsters.”

scondon@aspentimes.com


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