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Give your backyard a lift with repurposed goods

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Posted on: July 9, 2014

In between bouts of summer rain and the occasional battle with a tiger mosquito, I love to get outside. My outdoor to-do list this summer includes finally putting some leftover patio pavers and an old shutter door to use as DIY planters. Luckily, the surplus, salvaged, and green building materials store, Community Forklift, is just around the corner in Edmonston. You can purchase a variety of secondhand and salvaged materials to serve your home improvement needs.

Director of Outreach and Education Ruthie Mundell recently gave me the grand tour and showed me a dizzying amount of materials that locals are buying for their outdoor projects. Read on for my top five within-reach DIY projects that can be accomplished using secondhand materials from Community Forklift or other salvage source.

1. Repurpose weathered bathtubs and sinks for outdoor use. While an antique cast iron sink can go for upwards of $200 when it’s in good condition, ones that are chipped that are worth only $5 or $10 can be used as outdoor potting sinks. “People will build a countertop, set the old sink into it and run their hose through it,” Mundell explained.

Old tubs and sinks work well as planters, too (built-in drainage!). There’s even a Art Lives Here project underway in Brentwood where artists are growing hops out of bathtubs.

“The yield of these crops will go towards the beers brewed by Catalog Brewing,” artist Kenny George said. “In addition, we plan on sharing what we produce with local home-brewers who are interested in participating in this project.”

2. Give new life to old and/or discarded wood. Some Forklift customers have gotten creative using salvaged or unused lumber to build planter boxes. Lumber starts at 15 cents a foot. For long-lasting, chemical-free raised beds, Mundell recommends untreated, “old-growth” wood. You can also buy palettes for just a couple bucks apiece to create a compost bin or fence in your veggie garden, like the kind seen at ECO City Farms in Bladensburg or Wangari Gardens in Washington, D.C.

Or maybe you just have a shaky back porch that needs some new steps? Hyattsville resident Sharon Edwards said she replaced the back deck of her porch with random Trex boards for a fraction of the retail price and repurposed short columns as railings that she picked up at Community Forklift.

3. Go “mosaic.” Broken up chunks of granite, marble or other stone can be used to create a dazzling patio (smooth side down, to avoid slippage), while ceramic tiles (of which there are plenty) pressed into concrete would make for a beautiful tabletop. I purchased a perfect piece of white marble there for only $10 that I plan to use for an outdoor bar. And keep your eyes out for odds and ends of landscape pavers and edgers to fill in gaps in existing patios, walkways or other landscaping.

4. Dress up your porch. Lucky enough to have a porch with a ceiling? Not only can you pick up an antique ceiling fan, some customers are buying builders’ grade chandeliers for only $15 or $20, spray painting them bright colors and putting candles in them. Others are taking vintage window sashes and hanging them as a “little bit of a visual screen” to separate their porches from the neighbors’, Mundell said.

5. Get creative with seating and dining. Forklift carries an array of patio furniture, from gently used furniture from IKEA or Target to higher-priced vintage sets. (The newer stuff goes fast, Mundell advised, so if you’re in the market, keep up with incoming donations on Facebook or Twitter.) There are also plenty of doors and railings for slapping together a table, and one customer even repurposed an old security gate as a trellis and turned the air conditioner “bump out” into a padded seat.

Want to see how the DIYers fared? Check out the gallery of customers’ latest projects at



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