Reclaimed Flooring 101

by Tania Wannenburg
Reclaimed flooring 101

Reclaimed timber is considered environmentally friendly while at the same time aesthetically unique with its distinct hues and grains.

The words reduce, reuse and recycle are often used to encourage a more sustainable way of living. Every industry endeavours to achieve ratings that demonstrate sustainable practises in order to be considered environmentally friendly. The flooring industry is no different, with a lot of hard work going into ensuring that products are as sustainable as they could possibly be. This makes choosing reclaimed flooring, which usually involves timber, a good choice for ‘greener’ practises.

Reclaimed wood is wood that is repurposed from its original intended use. For instance, roof rafters or floor joists pulled from and old house or barn is considered ‘reclaimed’ when it is used in a new setting. It could be cut up, re-shaped or used to produce new flooring, but the simple act of repurposing it makes it “reclaimed”. Many refer to the term “upcycling”.

One of the primary goals of the salvaging process is to acquire the wood before it gets shipped to the landfill. This means scouting for lumbar from old decking, barns, factories, old flooring, shipping and crating materials, deconstructed buildings, wine casks and shipyards. Often, salvageable wood is mixed with other waste, so it’s necessary to do some sorting. When this happens, the professionals will separate the high-quality pieces of timber from the waste and recyclable materials. This process generally involves sorting the wood by hand; removing nails and bolts from the wood; banding units of wood together; and taking the leftover metal, plastic and nylon to the recycling centre. The grade pieces of wood that don’t make the cut are repurposed and made into usable items whereas low-grade wood is used as firewood or becomes bio-fuel.

The highest-quality timber that is salvaged is then dried in a kiln to stabilise it. Once it’s dried, the lumbar gets milled to remove its old, rugged exterior. This is when its true beauty starts to appear, as you can start to see the different hues and characteristics of the original wood. The reclaimed wood is then packaged and shipped to those who seek beautiful new flooring, decks, table tops, furniture and more.

Reclaimed wood has the ability to create a very rustic look and feel to any space, but this is just one of several benefits of installing this green building material.

6 Benefits of installing reclaimed timber flooring
1.    Durability – almost all reclaimed lumbar comes from the hardwood of old growth trees. That means stronger wood, straighter lumbar, tighter grains and better looks. The wood from these mature trees are less prone to splitting, as is timber that has been exposed to the elements over a period of time.
2.    Environmentally friendly – as noted, using reclaimed wood flooring helps to preserve our forests by reducing the need for virgin timber. Generally, processing this wood has less impact on the environment than felling, transporting and processing new lumbar. The varieties recovered can include those not available naturally.
3.    Unique – One of the most important aspects of reclaimed timber flooring is its character. Every section has a story and no two pieces are identical, giving depth and unique character to anything fashioned from the wood. However, some people may not favour the non-uniform appearance of flooring. Reclaimed flooring can also have scars and indentations caused by the removal of old nails and pegs. Again, some people love the character of these marks while others see them as flaws. The sense of uniqueness, depth and weathered charisma invites warmth and is turning reclaimed timber flooring into one of the hottest trends in home design. Reclaimed timber offers an authentic and tight wood grain with a variety of rich colour tones and patinas. Reclaimed flooring, as a design option provides a unique backdrop for a modern as well as traditional and contemporary interior design. It is versatile and adds personality and uniqueness to a room. Reclaimed timber floors provide a stylish contrast and warmth to polished modern interiors. It is grounded and authentic and connects the interior spaces to the exterior spaces.
4.    Stood the test of time – Reclaimed wood has already experienced seasonal expansion and contraction, usually for a hundred years or more. This means reclaimed flooring is going to hold fast and in place much better and longer than a hardwood cut from recently harvested, new growth timber.
5.    There’s a story to tell – Besides being old growth and seasoned, reclaimed products also have a history to tell. Most reclaimed lumbar companies track where their wood comes from and pass that history onto customers. For example, your reclaimed wood flooring may start out as pier in New England, a bran in Brazil or held up an old steel mill in Pittsburgh.
6.    Low maintenance – Many reclaimed items will require less maintenance simply because they’ve already become worn over time, creating a storied look that has become increasingly popular. As most of them are already weathered, not much can stain them, dent them or wreck them at this point.

While reclaimed lumbar is an excellent purchase, there are a few things to look out for as you shop around. Because reclaimed timber has been around for a while and is likely to have been exposed to some rough conditions before its rebirth, it’s important that it has been kiln dried before installing it. Kiln drying kills any dormant insects that may have taken up residence in the wood, it exposes defects so they can be cut out before the wood is shipped to you, and it reduces moisture content in the wood to the optimal level for installations. The other thing to make sure of is that the wood is really reclaimed. Ask for a pictorial history of the lumbar you are getting, and inquire into the heartwood content, vertical grain and density.

As already noted, reclaimed flooring has unique character that is hard to find in virgin timber, which opens up a world of endless possibilities as far as décor and design is concerned. Aesthetics aside, reclaimed timber is also durable while its sustainable attributes make it an ideal option for any flooring installation which requires a rustic look and feel.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to Dorothy van’t Riet, Founder and Creative Director of Dorothy van’t Riet Design and Décor Consultants; www.homeadvisor.com; http://greenbusinesswatch.org;  www.timberhomeliving.com and http://buildipedia.com for the information contained in this article.

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