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Culture » Culture Features

Born Again: From the salvage yard to the front yard

Paul Schmitz isn't a holy man, but he's in the reincarnation business nonetheless. A jack of all trades with a craftsman's soul, Schmitz has built


Paul Schmitz isn't a holy man, but he's in the reincarnation business nonetheless. A jack of all trades with a craftsman's soul, Schmitz has built a name for himself by tearing down old, unwanted buildings and then lovingly re-constructing the sum of their parts, creating something different, and perhaps better, than their creators ever imagined.

His showpiece is a westside Bend home that's constructed largely of recycled timbers, telephone poles, and post consumer board. Schmitz who recently finished work on the home, and has started work on another almost identical model, dubbed the project Recycled Home (Number 1), and the description is right on. Most of the exterior and many of the interior materials are enjoying a second lease on life. Timbers for the front porch came from a lumber shed, much like our own dearly departed crane shed, in Weed, California where Schmitz spent two years deconstructing the massive building. Thanks to the prevalence of materials from the Weed project and other mill deconstruction jobs, the home and grounds have a sort of sawmill motif. The corrugated metal roof came from a building that was part of a decommissioned kiln system in Gilchrist.

If the local real estate market ever climbs out of the doldrums, the home will be more than just a one-off. Schmitz has nine lots at the base of Overturf Butte that were once part of a small nursery. He plans to redevelop the entire site, creating a mini "recycled neighborhood" that's sandwiched in with a bunch of otherwise cookie-cutter craftsman homes.

"The sustainable block is what we're dubbing it," said Schmitz who is getting ready to test the market for his secondhand home. He plans to put Recycled Home Number One on the market soon.

I asked Schmitz where he's going to live if the home sells.

He just shrugs his shoulders.

"I can live anywhere," he tells me. And I believe him, probably because he's got the messianic look in his eye.

He's a man on a mission, not just to build greener homes, but also to change the way that homes are built. And he moves quickly from discussing his recycled shingles to his legal strategy for forcing the county to crackdown on developers that opt for wholesale demolition of reusable buildings and building materials.

Schmitz, who has lived in Bend for almost two decades, got interested in building and woodworking as a kid growing up in Arizona.

"I always liked log homes. As a kid I was fascinated by them." He took woodworking shops in high school. After graduating, he worked with an uncle building tract homes in Arizona's blooming subdivisions.

When he moved to Central Oregon in the early 90s he started a log home restoration business. Seeing opportunity to reuse and refurbish building materials, he started a salvage business. He's spent most of the past few years growing that business, but he continued to build on the side. His current venture, Boxcar Productions, marries the two interests by incorporating his salvaged materials into his new building projects.

Schmitz said his philosophy is about more than just using old materials. The homes are energy efficient and built to outperform and outlast the mass produced homes that have proliferated over the past few years. A floating foundation allows the home to utilize the earth's radiant heat, while a low energy furnace and fan system recycles warm air from the top of the house to the main floor. Flooring from old rail cars (hence the name) and other reusable materials are used in place of sheet rock on the ceilings and walls.

Schmitz said he built the first home on the lower west side that sold for more than $250K. It's located right next door to his Recycled Home. The home had a number of sustainable elements so Schmitz knows there's a market for homes with Green features. The question now: Is there a market for one with a Green soul?

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