Today, reclaimed wood is a popular choice for building materials. Some may wonder, however, if it’s truly an environmentally beneficial choice or simply a design trend. From sourcing to installation, the data asserts the truth — reclaimed wood is an environmentally friendly design choice. That, in part, explains why it has become so popular and why it promises to have an enduring place in architecture and design.
One of the first considerations in analyzing the environmental impact of reclaimed wood is the issue of sourcing. The accepted narrative is that reclaimed wood mostly comes from old houses and barns. While it’s true that this does happen, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle. As it turns out, there’s a large supply of reclaimed wood around the world, and it comes from all different kinds of places.
How Reclaimed Wood is Sourced
Reclaimed wood is special in that every piece has its own unique character. There’s a wide variety of reclaimed woods available, each with their own story and appearance. This is due in large part to the range of sourcing methods available. Reclaimed wood can be sourced from everywhere from the forest floor to factories that generate large amounts of scrap wood. Here are some of the more common methods of sourcing reclaimed wood.
Post-consumer reclaimed wood. This wood is sourced from old structures that are no longer needed. It can be derived from buildings, bridges, fencing, dunnage, and bleacher seating, to name a few common sources. This is often what first comes to mind when one thinks of reclaimed wood. Much post-consumer reclaimed wood tends to give a rustic feel to a space. In many cases, this type of wood reflects its past life, making it a great choice for designers who want to create a specific type of atmosphere. For example, reclaimed wood with evidence of bolt and nail holes lends an authenticity to a space.
From cwaltersdesign.com: Hi Tops in San Francisco uses reclaimed bleacher seating to complement its retro-meets-contemporary look
Post-industrial reclaimed. When wood products such as furniture are created, enormous amounts of scrap wood are produced. At TerraMai, we see these waste streams as valuable sources of useful wood. By rescuing this wood, we divert it from landfills. Since post-industrial reclaimed wood comes in many shapes and sizes, repurposing it can require some creativity but the end result is often startling.
From TerraMai: Post-industrial fall down was used to make Acacia Metro paneling used in 901 5th Ave’s elevator lobby.
Water reclaimed. This type of wood has a particularly fascinating history. Throughout the 20th century, ancient forests in Central America, South America, and Africa were flooded for water storage and power generation. Where these reservoirs exist today there rests an abundance of tropical wood below the surface. Bayano Lake in Panama is one picturesque example of such a reservoir.
Water reclaimed tropical wood is renowned for its appearance, strength, and durability. Water reclaimed wood is one of the most ecologically friendly methods of obtaining tropical woods as it does not require any living trees to be cut. As a bonus, water reclaimed wood eliminates a dangerous water hazard for locals who use the reservoirs and lakes.
From YouTube: Panama’s Bayano Lake is a rich source of water reclaimed tropical wood
Orchard salvage. After many decades of harvest, aging orchard trees that have declined in production are sunsetted. These trees are culled and replaced, but they often end up landfilled. That’s why we work to foster a strong market for old orchard wood so it can be repurposed as reclaimed wood. The wood yielded from culled orchard trees is of exceptional quality and beauty.
Forest floor salvage. During the timber cutting process, many smaller diameter trees are left behind due to their low yield. Typically, this rejected wood is chipped into mulch. However, there’s lots of potential in this wood, which is why we reclaim this discarded wood so that it can live up to its full potential instead of being relegated to the wood chipper.
How Reclaimed Wood Benefits the Environment
The main way in which reclaimed wood is environmentally beneficial is evident in the name––it salvages wood that would otherwise go to waste. However, this is just a big picture view, and there are many other environmental benefits to consider.
First, reclaimed wood directly benefits the environment from which it is sourced. Post-consumer, post-industrial, and orchard reclaimed wood helps to clean up buildings and natural spaces. If the wood isn’t reclaimed, it’s thrown into landfills. Reclaiming wood from these sources helps remove and reuse wood waste, benefitting both the wood source and the environment in general.
Second, many methods of sourcing reclaimed wood reduce the need to cut living trees to obtain wood. On a large scale, this contributes to the reduction of deforestation, preserving the health of existing forests and the habitats of many endangered species. This is a large reason why so many companies choose to use reclaimed wood. It prevents the unnecessary cutting of trees that, if left untouched, could contribute to the environment.
Third, milling reclaimed wood into flooring and paneling or making it into furniture requires fewer resources, and has less of an environmental impact than the manufacture of freshly cut trees into these products. Reclaimed wood has previously captured all of the steps required to grow, harvest and prepare new wood for milling into a finished product. For example, timber companies utilize large quantities of water to ‘irrigate’ or spray freshly cut logs so they stay wet prior to milling. That water and the subsequent waste water is not a factor with reclaimed wood. Furthermore, at TerraMai we work to ensure that the wood we reclaim is milled as close to the source as possible so that transportation energy is minimized.
The Benefits of Implementing Reclaimed Wood
Since reclaimed wood is particularly versatile, it can be used as a central unifying element or as an eye-catching focal point.
In small amounts, reclaimed wood is perfect for reception desks, furniture, and entryways. These are simple and straightforward ways to incorporate reclaimed wood into existing building design. It also doesn’t take much wood to see the benefits associated with the presence of wood. Even just a bit of reclaimed wood can have many positive effects on occupant well-being and happiness.
From TerraMai: Priceline’s Norwalk office features a reclaimed wood reception desk and wall
Larger amounts of reclaimed wood can be used for everything from flooring to innovative installations. Many businesses choose to create entire spaces centered around the inclusion of reclaimed wood. This benefits productivity and mood, which can contribute to increased brand visibility, brand engagement, and shaping overall brand identity, especially in a retail space like REI (below).
From TerraMai: REI SoHo boasts expansive reclaimed wood flooring that adds beauty, while also emphasizing the brand’s connection to the outdoors
The verdict is in: Reclaimed wood is one of the most environmentally friendly design choices you can make. Both the sourcing and transportation of reclaimed wood are energy efficient and prevent unneeded deforestation from occurring. Using reclaimed wood also ensures that unused wood doesn’t end up in the landfill. It’s truly remarkable to take wood that would otherwise be wasted and make something beautiful out of it.