The Habitat for Humanity ReStore

Home improvement projects and discount building supplies make for strong communities at the Habitat For Humanity ReStore. Stocked exclusively with donated new and used household materials this retail establishment on Madison’s Eastside helps low-income wage earners work their way to homeownership while keeping tons of construction waste out of area landfills.

The first of its kind in Wisconsin the ReStore at 208 Cottage Grove Road is now one of 19 locations in the state that take in unwanted supplies for home renovation. Staffed by volunteers the business with 750 storefronts nationwide offers those eligible for a home construction grant to invest their time and energy working to provide affordable supplies to Madison do-it-yourselfers on a budget.

To qualify for her Habitat home off East Washington Avenue Kaet Hall put in over 320 hours of sweat-equity at the ReStore. “It was a really good experience,” she said. “When people would come by to buy stuff or donate stuff I could say thank you. I’m one of those people who you’re helping get into a new home.”

Actually her house is a refurbished home bought in foreclosure for $40,000. With a zero interest loan from Habitat, the help of volunteers and the power of her own two hands Hall is now the proud owner of a valuable piece of property. “We gutted it and rebuilt it,” she said. “What was once $40,000 is now worth $117,000.”

The Habitat For Humanity ReStore allows the process of homeownership to come full circle, from used to new and back again. But if you take a look around it’s just like any hardware store. “The difference is we take in surplus building supplies,” said ReStore director Jen Voichick. “We don’t buy any of the materials you see here. It’s all provided to us by donation.”

In a sustainable system of repurposing, recycling and reuse these building materials can help in a home remodel. Everything from tile, carpets, wood flooring, light fixtures, even kitchen sinks are available for a fraction of the price at a regular retail store. “Usually this is stuff that would otherwise be thrown out,” Voichick said. “But people have to be creative when they want a large quantity of something like tile. They have to mix and match.”

Like shopping a thrift shop for fashion discounts building supplies at the ReStore are a hodge-podge of odds and ends. “There are regular customers that come in with lists of what they’re looking for,” Voichick said. “What’s great about this place is that we have people who are trying to match something for their existing home.”

The ReStore is great for small projects or for more ambitious undertakings with flexible outcomes. With a still uncertain new housing market homeowners are making real estate improvements with an eye on frugality. At the Restore consumers can find that rare item they’ve been searching for or discover something unique they had never imagined. And sometimes they’ll find things they could never afford.

“We had a bunch of Anderson Windows donated not so long ago,” said Restore volunteer Larry Kaukl. “Those can be really expensive and we sold them for a lot less than if you bought them new from the manufacturer.”

High-end building materials are not at all uncommon. Craig Hanson senior human resources manager at Springs Window Fashions in Middleton said his company typically donates discontinued or outdated merchandise that’s perfectly good but might be thrown into a dumpster if not for the restore. “If it’s a remade blind or a custom product, there’re not a lot of outlets where it can go,” he said. “We have to ask if it’s worth the effort to find an outlet and only get pennies on the dollar when we can do some much more in the community by donating it to Habitat.”

And construction companies like JH Findorff & Sons often deliver surplus building supplies straight from their construction sites. “It keeps us from double handling a job,” said executive vice president Dave Beck-Engel. “Instead of bringing it over to our yard, unloading it and taking it back, they’ll call us up and we’ll tell them what can go to the ReStore. It’s not huge quantities but every little bit helps.”

The sale of these and other materials at the ReStore each year brings in about $200,000,  enough to build two new Habitat homes. In recent years both Springs Window Fashions and Findorff have offered their employees paid time off to help with construction. In the same spirit of giving some employees matched these hours with their own vacation time.

“We’re a believer in this cause,” said Hanson at Springs Window Fashions. “Housing and hunger are two things that we tend to support at our company and it just fits in with our giving philosophy.”

This story originally appeared in the February issue of the Capital Region Business Journal philanthropy feature Good Works

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.