Is Reclaimed Lumber the Answer?

Reclaimed lumber is wood taken for re-use. Most reclaimed lumber originates from timbers and decking rescued from old barns, factories and warehouses even though some companies use wood from non conventional structures for example boxcars, coal mines and wine barrels. Reclaimed or antique lumber can be used primarily for decoration and home building and it is often used for siding, architectural details, cabinetry, furniture and flooring.

Wood origins

In the usa, wood once functioned as the primary building material since it was strong, comparatively cheap and abundant. Today a number of these woods which were once plentiful are of obtainable in vast amounts through reclamation. One common reclaimed wood, longleaf pine, was used in factories and warehouses built throughout the Industrial Revolution. Longleaf heart pine was once probably the most functional wood for construction in America. It had been slow-growing (taking 200 to 400 years to mature), tall, straight, and had an all natural capability to resist mold and insects. More importantly, it had been abundant. Longleaf yellow pine grew in thick forests that spanned over 140,000 square miles (360,000 km2).

Another previously common wood for building was American Chestnut. Starting in 1904, a chestnut blight spread over the US killing billions of American Chestnuts. Prior to the wood was destroyed, it had been accustomed to build barns along with other structures, which preserved the wood for later reuse when these structures were later dismantled.

Barns function as probably the most common sources for reclaimed wood in the United States. Barns constructed up with the early area of the 19th century were typically built using whatever trees were right there on the property. They frequently contain a mixed mixture of oak, chestnut along with other woods including poplar, hickory and pine. Beam sizes were restricted to what could be moved by man and horse. The wood was either hand hewn utilizing an axe or squared by having an adze. Early settlers also recognized the oak from the European sub-species. Soon red, white, black, scarlet, willow, post and pin oak varieties were being cut and changed into barns too.

Mill buildings throughout the southeast offer a plentiful supply of reclaimed wood. A few of these buildings and complexes comprise greater than a million sq ft of floorspace and may yield 3 to 5 times that amount of board feet of flooring. These buildings regularly don’t have any economic or reuse possibility and may be considered a fire hazard, as well as varying degrees of environmental cleanup required. Reclaiming lumber and brick from retired mills puts these materials to some good use rather than a landfill.

Another surprising source of reclaimed wood is old snowfence. After their tenure around the mountains and plains from the Rocky Mountain region, snowfence boards really are a tremendous supply of consistent, structurally sound, and reliable reclaimed wood. In lots of locations water content of snowfence wood naturally drops to two percent, minimizing the requirement for treatment, and thereby avoiding the chance of harmful offgassing related to many sources of reclaimed wood.

Properties of reclaimed lumber

Reclaimed lumber is popular for many reasons: the wood’s unique appearance, its contribution to green building, the history of the wood’s origins and the wood’s physical characteristics such as strength, stability and durability. Reclaimed beams can be sawn into wider planks than the harvested lumber and several companies purport that their goods are more stable than newly cut wood because reclaimed wood has been exposed to alterations in humidity for far longer and therefore more stable, allowing them to be used with radiant heating systems. In some cases, the timbers from which the boards were cut have been slightly expanding and contracting for more than a hundred years in their previous installation. Radiant heat, with its low temperatures and even distribution affects the wooden flooring the same way, but the impact is much less dramatic with antique wood than newly sawn wood because antique wood has already been through this cycle for years.


The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the USGBC’s benchmark for designing, building and operating green buildings. Being certified, projects must first satisfy the prerequisites designated through the USGBC then earn a particular number of credits within the six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation design process. Using reclaimed wood can earn credits towards achieving LEED project certification. Because reclaimed wood is recognized as recycled content, it meets the Material & Resources criteria for LEED certification and because some reclaimed lumber goods are FSC certified, they are able to be eligible for a LEED credits under the “certified wood” category.


With reclaimed material being very popular, it is increasingly hard to source. With today’s high demand, some sellers attempt to pass newer wood off as antique. It is also common (while not necessarily done intentionally) for species to become misidentified since it is difficult to differentiate in older material unless it is cut open and examined, leaving the material less desirable.

Reclaimed lumber is usually more costly than new lumber primarily because of expenses related to dismantling, sorting, and preparing the wood. Reclaimed lumber sometimes has bits of metal embedded in it, such as broken off nails, so planing it may often ruin planer blades. Nail compatible blades are advisable for the similar reason, plus safety.

Many sources of reclaimed wood cannot verify exactly what the wood may have been treated with over its lifetime. This uncertainty results in fears of harmful offgassing of chemical toxins (VOCs) associated with lead paint or various stains and treatments that could happen to be used on the wood. These fears are particularly pressing once the wood is intended for an interior application.

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