Northen Liberties’ Greensaw finds inspiration in salvage

Samir Pa­tel and Brendan Jones of Greensaw Design and Build.

Loc­als Greensaw Design and Build draw in­spir­a­tion from re­cyc­ling ma­ter­i­als that would oth­er­wise go to the land­fill.

For any con­struc­tion com­pany — at a time when sus­tain­ab­il­ity is more im­port­ant than ever be­fore — it’s one thing to design green and en­vir­on­ment­ally friendly pro­jects. It’s an­oth­er to use re­cycled ma­ter­i­als to cre­ate your work.

But, for Greensaw Design and Build in North­ern Liber­ties, it’s im­port­ant to do both.

It’s a busi­ness mod­el that founder and co-own­er (the busi­ness is now a co­oper­at­ive with nu­mer­ous own­ers) Brendan Jones said came nat­ur­ally to him and the rest of the com­pany.

“Every­body here is an artist/Dump­ster diver,” he joked, dur­ing an in­ter­view held at Greensaw’s shop, based at 820 N. 4th St.

About five years ago, the long­time build­er said he de­cided to work in a more sus­tain­able way and fo­cus solely on build­ing — his com­pany re­mod­els prop­er­ties and builds fur­niture — us­ing re­cycled ma­ter­i­als.

  Be­sides, he said, with re­cycled ma­ter­i­als — like wooden floor­ing pulled from an old bowl­ing al­ley or hand-fin­ished wood that once served as a church pew — a cus­tom­er is of­ten get­ting a high­er qual­ity product and a story to go with it.

“The qual­ity and story mat­ter so much more and its so much more in­triguing than something that’s been shipped in from China,” said Jones. “When we are build­ing with this type of ma­ter­i­al, we step back and take in­spir­a­tion from that (ob­ject’s his­tory).”

Cur­rently, the com­pany is work­ing on renov­at­ing two prop­er­ties on Gir­ard Av­en­ue that will be­come the state’s first Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vir­on­ment­al Design “plat­in­um” cer­ti­fied renov­a­tion. LEED is a widely used green build­ing cer­ti­fic­a­tion sys­tem, and plat­in­um is the sys­tem’s highest sus­tain­ab­il­ity rat­ing.

Walk­ing through his work­shop along with Samir Pa­tel, a Greeensaw crafts­man and head of Greensaw’s com­munity out­reach ef­forts, Jones dis­played an ar­ray of shelving that the team had cre­ated us­ing pieces of dis­carded ship­ping pal­lets.

The pal­lets are fit­ted to­geth­er in such a way — a design ori­gin­ated by Whar­ton Esh­er­ick, a famed ar­chi­tect who now has a mu­seum ded­ic­ated in his memory in Paoli, Pa. — that when the wood re­acts to tem­per­at­ure changes in the room, it swells or shrinks ever so slightly, al­low­ing colored “splines” between each slat to be hid­den or ap­pear.

Us­ing re­cycled ma­ter­i­als in new pro­jects, Jones said, can be dif­fi­cult be­cause of the ef­fort needed to pre­pare the items that are to be re­used. But, he said that for Greensaw, it’s worth it for the ad­ded value and re­duced im­pact on the en­vir­on­ment.

 “We want to use ma­ter­i­als with a loc­al value and story be­hind it,” he said, dis­cuss­ing how the team re­cently salvaged wood from a mill on Frank­ford Creek. “It’s wood that would dis­ap­pear oth­er­wise, or be­come mulch.”

Loc­ally, the team has been work­ing with rep­res­ent­at­ives from the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. to sup­port the Sus­tain­able 19125 ini­ti­at­ive and re­cently helped paint the park­ing lot at the Shissler Re­cre­ation Cen­ter. Greensaw is cur­rently us­ing re­cycled ma­ter­i­als to cre­ate a shel­ter for the com­post bin for the NK­CDC and Philly Com­post’s Com­post Co-op, which will be placed at the NK­CDC Garden Cen­ter.

This ef­fort to bring af­ford­able com­post­ing to the area will launch on May 12, with a new mem­ber­ship meet­ing to be held at 7:30 p.m. at the NK­CDC Garden Cen­ter, loc­ated at the in­ter­sec­tion of Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Berks Street.

Pa­tel said the com­pany strives to work closely with mem­bers of the com­munity to sup­port the area and to cre­ate con­nec­tions to help the com­pany re­duce waste.

For ex­ample, he said, Greensaw donates its saw­dust to area chick­en farm­ers, and in re­turn, the com­pany re­ceives batches of fresh eggs.

 “It’s awe­some,” Pa­tel said with a grin.

  But, where do they get the re­cycled ma­ter­i­als that Greensaw uses?

Of­ten, raw ma­ter­i­als are salvaged from build­ings to be de­mol­ished.

But, if you’ve seen the movie Avatar: The Last Air­bend­er, you’ve prob­ably already seen some of the ma­ter­i­als that Greensaw used for new pro­jects.

“It would be nice if that would have been a bet­ter movie,” joked Dav­id Wing, co-op mem­ber and pro­ject man­ager for Greensaw.

 The com­pany works closely with The Re­source Ex­change, a South Philly busi­ness that saves ma­ter­i­als used by movie pro­du­cers and loc­al theat­ers like the Wal­nut Street Theat­er.

The Re­source Ex­change en­sures that the used sets from their pro­duc­tions are re­cycled and used by com­pan­ies like Greensaw.

Wing said that Avatar: Last Air Bend­er, un­like James Camer­on’s sim­il­arly named, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar film Avatar, had sets that the com­pany was able to ob­tain and strip down for re­use.

He noted that the more suc­cess­ful Avatar, though it has an un­der­ly­ing en­vir­on­ment­al mes­sage, didn’t see its sets re­cycled.

“Not a single nail was saved off that set,” said Wing. “We used everything (Avatar: The Last Air­bend­er) had.”

Learn more about the Com­post Co-op

Philly Com­post and Sus­tain­able 19125 are partnering to bring community composting to the 19125 ZIP code.

The first meet­ing of the new Com­post Co-op will be held Thursday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the NK­CDC Garden Cen­ter, Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Berks Street.

Three days a week, mem­bers can drop off food scraps at the spe­cially built fa­cil­ity at the Garden Cen­ter. The Co-op will be open on Thursdays and Fri­days from 4 to 7p.m. and Sat­urdays from noon to 3 p.m.

The fa­cil­ity in­cludes a state-of-the-art com­poster, the Earth Tub, donated by Philly Com­post. It will be sheltered by a struc­ture built by Greensaw Design and Build.  

Work­ing mem­ber­ships are $25 a year. Non­work­ing mem­ber­ships are $50 a year.

For more in­form­a­tion, e-mail­

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