Reclaimed wood is becoming a more and more popular building material. It can be found everywhere from Google’s offices, to your local coffee shop and in your neighbor’s house. It’s especially in demand for commercial projects due to its numerous health benefits, sustainability contribution, story and stunning looks.
Naturally, we answer a lot of questions regarding reclaimed wood. My goal with this article is to create a resource that answers the most common questions we get asked. Without further ado, here are the top 20 questions about reclaimed wood answered all in one place.
1. What is reclaimed wood?
The definition of reclaimed wood might seem obvious, but there’s actually a few layers to it. Generally, we can say that reclaimed wood is wood that has been salvaged or repurposed in one way or another. Reclaimed wood can be fairly old and come from vintage buildings and structures. Ethically, these old structures may be the only way to obtain much sought after old-growth wood. There is much wood diverted from the landfill that also constitutes reclaimed wood. Taking wood waste and repurposing it into beautiful materials is also reclaiming wood. In other words, wood that has been previously used or discarded wood are both under the umbrella of reclaimed wood. As such, reclaimed wood does not require any new trees to be felled.
From Hospitality Design: Reclaimed wood boasts longevity and universal appeal
2. Where does reclaimed wood come from?
Reclaimed wood is sourced using a range of methods. These methods can be split into several categories. People often picture old barns and structures when thinking of reclaimed wood. Wood sourced in this manner is called post-consumer reclaimed wood. Another source is post-industrial reclaimed wood which is wood waste generated during the manufacturing of wood products like furniture.
From New York Times: Reclaiming wood from older buildings is one of the most common methods of salvage
Wood may also be reclaimed from dead or dying trees from orchards and forest floors. Water reclaimed wood includes sinker logs and wood from forests that have been submerged for decades in reservoirs created for power generation. These methods provide an opportunity to use a great resource that would normally be chipped, burned or landfilled. Water reclaimed is a safe option to obtain tropical hardwoods without fear of illegal logging.
3. What are some common problems with reclaimed wood?
If you purchase from a reputable reclaimed wood company that is focused on quality, customer service, and has wood expertise, your reclaimed wood material will perform. Seek out a company that knows what to look for when sourcing material, has milling expertise and a solid quality check program. Reclaimed wood can be character-rich. This can be seen as an issue but we feel the character should be embraced. The character is a testament of the wood’s prior life. Make sure to see photos and get a representative set of samples so you have a good idea of what you are purchasing.
4. Will it run out?
Often we’re asked, “When will you run out of reclaimed wood”? Despite having done this for more than 20 years (or perhaps because we HAVE done this for more than 20 years!), we just keep finding more and more and more.
5. Is reclaimed wood safe?
Wood is a natural organic material and reclaimed wood is…wood. LEED considers solid wood as an inherently non-emitting source for VOCs. What needs to be considered is anything added to the wood, like a finish, fire retardant, substrate or glue. When VOCs are kept to a minimum, the final wood product emits little to no toxins into the air, making the environment safer and healthier. Most reclaimed wood companies are concerned with the environment and sustainability. Thus, they are likely using zero or low VOC materials but it is always wise to check.
6. Does reclaimed wood install like new wood?
Everyone wants trouble-free installation. The best way to ensure that is to work with a company that has a solid quality program, a good reputation and knows their stuff. A quality milled reclaimed wood material will install as well as a quality milled new wood material. Some assessment can be done by examining a few samples. How is the tongue and groove fit? When fitted together, do the pieces have good axial alignment? Ask about QC checks and the company’s quality program. Many installation issues can be mitigated with proper acclimation. This is true for new wood as well as reclaimed.
7. Is reclaimed wood expensive?
The cost of reclaimed wood varies depending on many factors, such as the species of the wood, it’s age, availability, sourcing method, and more. The price will also vary from company to company. However, you may find you’ll spend a little more than you would on new wood. Salvaging wood takes some extra work. Finding and securing sources, and the process of extricating, de-nailing, quality checks and remilling take a bit of extra care to ensure you end up with a quality material that looks great and installs well.
8. How do I purchase reclaimed wood?
There are companies that sell reclaimed wood and there are those that sell wood that looks like reclaimed wood. Ask questions about sourcing and get to know the company you are purchasing from. Reclaimed wood should have a reclaim story of where it originated and how it came to be a repurposed material. Post-consumer reclaimed wood can be FSC certified recycled for further verification. At TerraMai, we want to make buying reclaimed wood easy and have a dedicated national sales team to partner with you. We also have an eStore where many of our materials can be purchased.
9. Why is reclaimed wood so popular?
There are a variety of factors that have contributed to reclaimed woods’ growing popularity. One reason is the increased demand for using sustainable materials and using authentic materials with story. Sustainable design is a top priority for architects today, and that means choosing building materials that aren’t harmful to the planet. Reclaimed wood is inherently sustainable and requires far fewer resources to process it, making it a go-to choice for designers all over the world.
More and more people are looking for an experience and are choosing materials that align with their personal and brand values. Reclaimed wood can provide a connection through the power of story.
Many different looks from naturally distressed to clean and crisp can be achieved with reclaimed wood, but rustic design in commercial environments is best achieved with reclaimed wood. Similarly, biophilic design is more popular than ever, and reclaimed wood is arguably one of the best building material for creating biophilic spaces.
10. Why are so many top designers using reclaimed wood?
Starchitect firms like Perkins+Will have been using more and more reclaimed wood in their work. While designers use reclaimed wood for all of the reasons mentioned above (see Question 9), the intersection of aesthetics and sustainability is what draws many top designers to the material. Other designers, like Michael Green, are attracted to reclaimed wood for its character. Each piece of reclaimed wood carries a unique history with it, and this instantly adds verve and personality to any built environment.
11. How old is most reclaimed wood?
Age will vary dependent upon the source of the wood. Old growth wood salvaged from vintage buildings could be over 100 years old while post industrial wood waste may be much younger. No matter what its age is, salvaging wood and repurposing it helps minimize resources going to the landfill and negates the need to cut new trees.
12. How is reclaimed wood milled?
Milling reclaimed wood is surprisingly straightforward. The wood is inspected for damage and other quality issues and then stripped of nails and any other metal. Dimensions of the sourced wood will direct final dimensions of the milled material. Some planks may be removed if they are too thin or narrow. Additional steps are similar to milling new wood as far as equipment is concerned. How the material is defected and quality checked along the way will be company directed.
13. Does reclaimed wood require a lot of care and maintenance?
Like any wood, reclaimed wood will perform and look its best with appropriate maintenance. How the wood is finished, if it is an interior or exterior application, and level of usage will direct a care and maintenance program. With the right care, reclaimed wood can last decades. For more information, consult our Care & Maintenance guidelines.
14. Does reclaimed wood weather or change colors?
Depending on the species, milling, finish and the wood’s installation location, the wood may change a little or a lot. If the reclaim material’s weathered face is surfaced to reveal fresh wood underneath, there may be some color variation from plank to plank. This color variation may mellow over time as is true for teak. The initial color variation seen across the boards will homogenize over time such that all the planks become a more similar teak brown. Placement also matters; reclaimed wood used outdoors as siding or decking will weather more and faster than lumber used for indoor environments. A nice soft grey patina will develop if the wood finish is not maintained.
15. What wood species are available for reclaimed wood?
Almost all wood species can be reclaimed. The most popular are teak, oak, redwood, fir, pine, and cedar (especially Western Red Cedar). However, there are many exotic options, including peroba, cumaru, and acacia.
16. Is reclaimed wood environmentally friendly?
Reclaimed wood is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials in existence. Sourcing reclaimed wood is more energy efficient than harvesting new wood, and it also doesn’t require any living trees to be cut down. It leaves a minimal energy footprint while yielding maximum eco-friendly results. On top of that, some reclaimed wood can be FSC Certified Recycled and can earn points toward green building certifications like LEED.
17. Is reclaimed wood FSC certified?
While a lot of reclaimed wood is FSC Certified Recycled, not all of it can be. At first, that might seem bad, but that’s not necessarily the case. FSC certification applies only to post-consumer reclaimed wood. Post-consumer meaning wood that has been utilized by consumers in some manner like old buildings, bridges, fencing and other structures. There are many other methods to source reclaimed wood that prevent materials from becoming landfill waste but they do not fall under FSC jurisdiction.
18. Does reclaimed wood prevent deforestation?
Using reclaimed wood helps reduce the demand for newly cut trees. Unfortunately, many new trees are still cut down and this demand can lead to deforestation. It is important that people are aware that some 18 million acres of forest are lost each year and to also know the impact that deforestation is having on the environment, wildlife and quality of life. Understanding this impact can help customers make informed purchasing decisions.
19. Will there be more if I need to add on to my project?
A project expansion or renovation can require material match the original installation, or a customer may wish to build many facilities with the same look. Large quantities of reclaimed wood can be sourced and continue to be sourced over time so that there is consistent and lasting inventory. Some sources of reclaimed wood will be quite unique and one-of-a-kind but many post-consumer and post-industrial sourcing streams will continue for the foreseeable future.
20. Is reclaimed wood just a trend?
Despite worries that reclaimed wood is just another fashionable trend, it’s not going away anytime soon. Architects and designers have realized the immense benefits that come with reclaimed wood, and the aesthetic is universal and timeless. Its high sustainability factor is another reason why it will be one of the most desired building materials for the indefinite future. As starchitects continue to use and find more ways to implement reclaimed wood into their designs, the outlook for continued growth is positive.
I hope this article has answered your questions on reclaimed wood. All in all, it’s a fantastic material that will remain popular for a long time. There’s nothing quite like reclaimed wood; the beauty and character found in reclaimed lumber are unmatched. Reclaimed wood not only enhances the look of a space but also helps to save the earth. What more could you want from a building material?