By Carol M Goodwin
Reclaimed wood floors are becoming an important consumer choice in historical home renovations, new construction and commercial building. As the green movement gains momentum, reclaimed wood becomes the ideal building material for the environmentally-friendly builder. Wood floors are the best choice for the environment for several reasons.
- Manufacturing is cleaner. Steel products give off 24 times the amount of harmful chemicals than wood product manufacturing. Concrete leaches a great deal of carbon dioxide.
- Wood requires less energy to manufacture. Brick takes four times more energy, concrete six times and steel 40 times more energy to manufacture than wood.
- Wood actually conserves energy. It takes 15″ of concrete to equal the insulation qualities of just one inch of wood.
Wood certification is a growing trend. Regulations on cutting over harvested species began in the 1980’s and spawned tree plantations of Teak and various species of Mahogany like woods. Another result was forest certification beginning in Europe. Today almost 10% of the world’s forests are certified sustainable; 39% in North America, 54% in Europe, but only 8% in the rest of the world.
The problem is that most of the certified forests are in the Boreal forest regions where we are already managing the forests for the long term, and not in the rain forests. There is good news in a study published by the National Academy of Sciences founded by Lincoln in 1863, using satellite data to scientifically prove where deforestation is occurring. Previously data were self-reported by countries to the FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization, making the data suspect. It is now possible for developed countries to work together with fact based data to help undeveloped areas.
Reclaimed Wood is recycling.
River-Recovered logs were lost once and presumed gone forever… waiting perfectly preserved. Beams from industrial revolution warehouses are another good source. Existing wood floors have an extended life span and can often be reused. Many antique floors are in homes of the 18th or 19th century and are still walked on every day. They offer tremendous design diversity and the look of an old floor can be completely transformed with stains, faux finishes and inlays.
Health and Happiness
Wood floors are the healthy choice. They require fewer chemicals to clean than other floor coverings and they don’t trap dust, fumes or mold in the fibers or grout. Wood is a good floor choice for anyone with allergies. Depending on the sub floor or underlayment a wood floor can be better for your spine and joints. Wood gives a little and is easier on your legs and feet, more or less depending on the installation type.
As ‘green’ building has become more prominent, more products are available with environmentally certified ‘green’ faces and backers. International currencies make it much less costly to send wood from America to China to be made into flooring and then ship it back to the United States. These products may not all be using the NAF or ‘no added formaldehyde’ glues. When the author of the Idiots Guide to Green Living tested her engineered wood floor for formaldehyde it read.23 to.51 ppm versus the.1 that was established by the 1960’s in Swedish and various other studies to be the highest safe level. The California Air Regulatory Board has now adopted that standard for composite wood. Look for a product with certified formaldehyde emissions from glues and backers.
Reclaimed Wood Manufacturing
Reclaimed wood floors, manufactured without cutting trees, are a niche industry and are often made by small companies such as the one pictured in the slides. Reclaimed woods generally require more labor and craftsmanship. There can be 100 nails or more in an old stud, all of which have to be carefully located and removed. The wood must be carefully sawn to isolate the defects in a log or beam that may have been growing for several hundred years. It takes extra time to render the highest quality timber and keep waste to a minimum. The lumber must be air-dried depending on thickness and carefully kiln dried to set a moisture content baseline for proper acclimation to the expected average RH and temperature of the building. Reclaimed wood is often graded multiple times at sawing, after kiln-drying, after milling and finally during packaging to ensure that you receive the grade you ordered.
Engineered wood flooring uses a smaller amount of high quality or rare wood for the face. Some of the less well made engineered flooring contains smaller pieces not suitable for use in solid flooring, resulting in a chopped up look. However, a well-made engineered floor can be produced from full size boards and maintain the same aesthetically pleasing look and same average length as solid.
A wear layer on engineered wood that is comparable to a solid wood floor can be achieved using a precision ‘frame’ saw instead of slicing or peeling the faces; however, a thicker wear layer requires even more attention to the details of the profile or balance of the milling. One example is the location of the tongue and groove; setting them too high on a plywood-backed product or not using the same wood on the bottom of a balanced construction when using a thicker wear layer increases the risk that the flooring will not remain flat.
Reclaimed woods are steeped in history. All of the antebellum plantations built along the Mississippi in the early 1800s were made entirely of old-growth Heart Cypress and are still toured today. Settler’s cabins across the South, Victorian mansions up the eastern seaboard and hotels and palaces all over Europe were built from the once vast old-growth Heart Pine ecosystem. Then Redwood and Doug Fir supported the country’s expansion as people moved westward.
There is tremendous diversity available including: Oak, Beech, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Doug Fir, Maple, Redwood, Heart Cypress, Hemlock, Poplar, Spruce, Walnut and White Pine, among other species. To help ensure you receive wood that is reclaimed, ask for documentation on the source and approximate age of the tree when the wood was harvested. Age may be the most important factor, particularly in antique reclaimed wood, and can generally be determined by the growth rings in the heartwood.
Grades, grain patterns and distressed milling options often set reclaimed and especially antique woods apart. It requires larger logs or beams and wastes some wood to make vertical grain with only pinstriped grain patterns. Plain sawn wood is much more commonly available and has arches and much more movement in the grain pattern and is less formal in appearance.
Grades can vary from highly character with cracks, checks and various markings to mid-grades to select to clear and in between. Be sure to ask for the details on grades including: grain patter, heartwood content, knot maximum size and approximate number per 100 square feet, growth rings per inch on average, color variation degree, nail holes and bolt holes and how many to expect per 100 square feet, widths available and any other characteristics that the manufacturer thinks important to share.
Distress marks include saw kerfs that are artificially introduced today (circular saws waste much more wood and have all but been abandoned in developed countries). Wire brushes can be used to emphasize the early and late wood differentiation and introduce a pronounced raised grain pattern. “Hand scraped” is most often done on a molder with specially scalloped knives and often gives a repeated pattern appearance on more commercially available flooring. Real hand scraping can be done onsite like it was 100 years ago for a more natural look. Many scraping patterns are available from deeply scalloped to a ‘foot worn’ appearance.
So build green and build beautiful with reclaimed wood.
Goodwin Heart Pine Company, a custom manufacturer of antique reclaimed wood products since 1976, is committed to providing building design professionals with the facts about specifying reclaimed wood. Visit us at Goodwin Heart Pine