One of my favorite building and furniture materials is wood. It’s natural, durable, versatile and easy to maintain, and it provides a warm feeling to any room. How about a log cabin, a Frank Lloyd Wright home or a Mission style chair? So cozy! I love the looks of these, and all because of the wood.
Lumber is sustainably harvested and certified nowadays in the mainstream, making it a more eco-friendly option than that which had been traditionally harvested. But recycled and reclaimed wood is even greener. And these materials are gaining a bigger foothold in green construction.
New life for old wood
When a building has outlived its usefulness, deconstruction is preferable to demolition these days. It is taken apart bit by bit, and wood and other materials are sorted, cleaned and reused. Timbers are kiln-dried for stability and to kill bugs. Then they are milled into lumber for flooring, siding, furniture, cabinets, countertops, tabletops and trim.
Old barns, warehouses, gym floors and bleachers, boats, wine barrels, olive oil barrels and water tanks provide hard- and soft-woods, such as oak, cherry, pine, beech, fir and the long-gone chestnut. These woods are more durable than new lumber.
Think about it. A barn built in the 1800s in the Midwest came from huge trees that were allowed to grow to their full size naturally. They saw all kinds of weather and were stronger because of it. There was very little pollution back then to weaken them, too. Today’s lumber is from trees that grow quickly and don’t have the ‘life experience’ that old growth does.
The timber in an old barn dried, cracked and stabilized a long time ago. With a little work, it would be ready for a new life.
Reclaimed wood is living history
Old wood gives a house a rustic feel. It adds character and visual interest, and it brings history into your home. No two pieces are the same. Nail holes, insect holes, rust stains and other signs of distress make your reclaimed wood home and furniture unique.
Recycled material saves landfill space and reduces embodied energy. Reclaimed flooring uses 13 times less energy to produce as cutting down trees to make it new. That’s quite a savings of CO2 being added to the atmosphere, and the saved trees can continue to provide oxygen. Recycled wood also qualifies for LEED credit for recycling, certified wood (Forest Steward Council – FSC) and/or being locally sourced.
How reclaimed wood works with other sustainable building materials
Beams and cross-timbers might be able to be used as is after a little cleaning up. They would add to the natural feel of cob, strawbale, adobe and stone. Old wood can also soften more contemporary components like glass and stainless steel. Price will depend on the type of wood and availability.
Finding wood for a DIY-er might take a little footwork, but it is worth the effort. Check local salvage yards and demolition companies. Keep up on demolition in your town. Our city recently took down three buildings that were deemed unfit, and I’m sure there were some good materials to save. The USGBC also has a list of suppliers on their website.
Because reclaimed lumber is gaining in popularity, it is getting scarce and more expensive. Ask your architect or contractor about using it in your renovation or new construction. It will be a conversation starter at your next gathering!