The Washington Post

My Renovation Saga: Community Forklift

When I was considering deconstructing the house, I heard a lot about Community Forklift.  Even some of the people who commented on my blog encouraged me to think about this place in Maryland near the D.C. border that will take reusable building materials, architectural salvage, furniture and appliances. 

 So recently, I drove to Hyattsville to see for myself. 

 Although Community Forklift is located in an industrial neighborhood near the train tracks by the Anacostia River, the store makes a cheerful statement by having a small vegetable and herb garden out front.

The place was hopping. I introduced myself to someone at the counter and looked around while I waited for Ruthie Mundell, one of the people who had commented on the blog, to finish some work and come talk to me.

 I sat down to wait on a leatherette diner booth with a sold tag. I felt like ordering a root beer float.

 Ruthie joined me at the diner booth and began to tell me about the place.  First, she gave me a list of things they do and do not accept.  To my amazement, they even welcome used building lumber that is de-nailed and at least six feet long.  This means that it will be better to pull apart my house carefully instead of using a bulldozer. They happily take all fencing in decent condition. I have several sections of six-foot fencing and about 250 feet of split rail fence. To my greater amazement, they want big rocks, whole bricks and concrete blocks — things I don't even dare dump in the garbage. 

 Funky things are gladly taken even if their structural value is lost.  It turns out that artists and creative craftspeople are a steady clientele, so reliable that Ruthie told me that the warehouse next door might be converted into studio space for these artists who will get supplies at Community Forklift and create something out of them right next door. 

 What doesn't get sold is often sent overseas. This seemed counterintuitive to me. I would have thought that transportation costs were prohibitive and that the cost in fuel and labor to move large amounts of junk — excuse me, I mean architectural salvage — across oceans would be huge.  Ruthie said actually it can be very cost effective to do this.

 They naturally prefer the donor to bring the materials to Hyattsville; but with sufficient lead time, they will send a team to the site for pick-up.

 What a deal! It was much more than I expected. 

 If I donate things to them, I can get a tax deduction. If the value is below $5,000, the IRS doesn't ask questions (so I'm told). But for a deduction above that limit, I have to have a professional appraisal. To avoid a conflict of interest, Community Forklift cannot do the appraisal. It has to be an unbiased outsider. 

 All the metal in the house can be recycled separately for immediate cash. There is a fair amount of copper from old pipes, aluminum and lots of iron, which commands a price of seven cents a pound. Not much, but it can add up. Here is Nestor Flores taking apart the play equipment. 

I have been struck by the level of energy that is focused on recycling. It’s not at all competitive. Places such as Community Forklift are happy to tell their donors as well as their customers about other options.  Ruthie gave me a long list of architectural salvage shops and thrift stores for home improvement grouped by region. 


Mary McCutcheon is a retired anthropology professor at George Mason University.


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