Is Reclaimed Wood An Environmentally Friendly Design Choice

Reclaimed Wood
March 30, 2018

We all know that reclaimed wood is a popular design choice, but, what are the environmental benefits associated with incorporating a recycled product into a project? From the reduction in the harvesting of trees to the resources it requires to transport commercially harvested woods around the globe there is some pretty compelling data to prove it' case. Simply put reusing materials has less impact on the planet and our natural ecosystem as well as the resources available worldwide.

So, what really goes into reclaiming wood and how is it different than harvesting timber commercially? Reclaimed wood is most commonly found in old industrial buildings and rural structures that have served their purpose and are no longer either usable or simply do not meet the current needs of today's world. These structures are usually abandoned or are being used for a very limited purpose and the cost associated with repair or renovation far outweighs the benefits of such endeavors meaning that if they are not yet abandoned they soon will be.

The process of dismantling abandoned structures in order to properly reclaim the wood and other salvageable materials is more complex than simply demolishing the structure, however, the total cost is offset greatly with the value of the materials. In most cases if there are substantial amounts of salvageable materials to be recovered, the value of the materials far outweighs the cost of deconstruction versus demolition.

The sheer quantity of materials that sit in old abandoned buildings is staggering. At the time many of these structures were constructed they were way overbuilt and resources were plentiful. Not only is there a financial cost associated with disposing of the debris that results from demolition there is also a significant environmental cost as well. With deconstruction there is a financial benefit from the sale of material and a very significant reduction in landfill space saved due to the limited amount of material that will become waste.

Reclaimed Barn
This Barn Has Plenty Of Stories To Tell
Grey Barn Siding
The Aged Grey Wood Is Ready For A Second Life

One of the largest sources of reclaimed wood is rural structures. It is estimated that there were over 6 million barns and countless other rural structures constructed in the United States from the late 1800's to the early 1900's, many of which have either been abandoned or are underutilized today. The average barn will yield between 4000 to 15000 board feet of usable material when properly dismantled, this can be enough for several homes to incorporate flooring throughout the entire home.

Reclaimed Heart Pine Beams
Reclaimed Heart Pine Beams From An Industrial Building

Significant amounts of material are in great shape and have not sustained damage due to weather and other environmental factors. This is important because it makes the dismantling more profitable and yields a better overall finished product for the end user. Large beams and floor joists are a great source of quality wood that will result in high yields. This material is used to create flooring, wall and ceiling paneling, wood tops and more.

Barn Deconstruction
Safety Is A Must When Deconstructing A Building
Reclaimed Barn Beams
Many Structures Contain Truly Beautiful Materials

During the industrial revolution many large warehouses and mills were constructed using heart pine from the south or douglas fir from the north west. These woods were perfect for the large timbers needed to create robust structures. Today the wood found in these buildings is some of the highest quality material available and the best source for first growth wood that remains.

Elmwood Reclaimed Timber
It's A Complex Process To Reclaim Wood

The process of creating finished products from reclaimed wood is complex to say the least. While there are countless companies that have a chop saw and table saw in a small shop, many will skip important stems and produce an inferior product. To create the finest products there is a lot of attention to detail that needs to be taken into account. All reclaimed wood needs to be kiln dried to reduce moisture and eradicate any pests that may be in the wood. Precision mill work is the next step and is vital to a consistent quality product that will meet the expectations of demanding customers. Another factor is scale, lot's of wood must be procured to ensure consistency and availability. Last but definitely not least is people who are well trained and care about the product. 

Reclaimed Wood Floors
Eco Friendly Interior With Reclaimed Wood Floors
Grey Barnwood Wall
Original Grey Barnwood In It's New Home

There are many great uses for reclaimed wood. One thing to remember is that reclaimed wood in not unlike new wood it has the same properties and applications the major difference is that it has previously been used. One of the amazing things about reclaimed wood is that when cut into it can look exactly the same as freshly cut lumber.

Reclaimed Mixed Wood Flooring
Barnwood Is Re-Milled And Given A Seccond Life As Flooring

Reclaimed wood comes in many different species and sizes. From traditional woods like pine and oak to more highly sought after species like walnut, ash and elm. Another great option is utilizing mixed wood species to combine all of the available species. Not only is this an attractive option it also maximizes the environmental benefits of using reclaimed wood. When creating a rustic product it is almost impossible to tell that there are multiple species incorporated.

Reclaimed Wood Shelves
Simple Planks Re-Purposed Into Shelves
Reclaimed Heart Pine Table
Some Reclaimed Wood Can Be Quite Clean And Modern

Not all reclaimed wood needs to be rustic. Many products are clean and modern in appearance lending to a wide variety of design styles. The strength properties are often greater as reclaimed wood benefits from having had a longer more natural growing period than newly harvested woods. When comparing old growth wood to new wood there can often be more than twice the number of growth rings per inch meaning that the tree took much longer to mature and grew far slower and more naturally.

Barn Wood Home
This Barn Wood Siding Was Used As If It Never Missed A Beat

How important are our trees? 30 mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 120 people each day and absorb 946lb of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. While that may not sound like a lot, when you look at a growing population on our planet it becomes more important to keep a healthy balance and more oxygen is clearly better.

Some key elements of the environmental benefits of reclaimed wood are obvious while others may not be so evident. When looked at as a whole it is clear that there is growing pressure on the resources found on our planet and that they are limited. Using reclaimed wood is a great way to not only create great design but also to do our part in helping to conserve.