Industry news

Used wood becoming a more popular material 2010/01/08

The old adage Everything old is new again was never so true as it is today when it comes to building materials. One of the hottest commodities in building materials these days is high-quality salvaged and reused lumber and wood products. The popularity - and the price being commanded - in today's building materials market is actually having a noticeable impact on how commercial and residential contractors plan and execute demolition and remodeling.

Part of the attraction of salvaged lumber is the potential size of the marketplace for harvesting it. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the equivalent of 250,000 single-family homes in the United States representing nearly 1 billion board feet of salvageable structural lumber is annually disposed of. As techniques for salvaging and deconstructing existing structures improve, more and more of this lumber is finding its way into homes and even commercial projects undergoing renovation

Aesthetics is another big attraction for salvage lumber. "The urban forest is a great un-tapped resource for beautiful, old-growth lumber these days," says Brian McVay, project manager for Deconstruction Services in Portland. "Reclaimed and salvaged lumber is the fastest-moving product we process through The ReBuilding Center. People are always amazed at the beauty and unmatched quality of the material."

Advantages & Disadvantages

There are a number of advantages to using salvaged lumber. For one thing, they really aren't making lumber like they used to. Old growth framing and millwork was the norm several decades ago and those resources are not available for the production of new lumber today. Bob Falk, research engineer at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a leading proponent of using salvaged lumber. He points out a number of the advantages to its use.

"Reclaimed wood timbers have had a very long time to dry," says Falk. "When sawn into flooring, or made into timber framing, they are less likely to twist, warp, or crack when brought into the home environment."

Falk also points out some of the aesthetic advantages to be found with salvaged lumber.

"Interestingly, the characteristics (nail holes, discoloration, etc.) that might lower the grade of virgin lumber often serve as quality attributes for salvaged flooring," says Falk. "These characteristics invoke such imaginative market descriptors as cottage rustic, character select, heritage, antique, or legacy."

Some of the advantages to this 'rustic' lumber can also present challenges to today's designers and contractors. Salvaged lumber can often times be harder to drive fasteners into. In some cases, salvaged wood splits easier. From a design and use standpoint, salvaged lumber often comes in different sizes from different decades, either requiring some re-milling or some custom fitting of hangers and brackets. It can also be a challenge in finding enough salvaged lumber to offer continuity of look and design for a project, although a longer project timeline can usually accommodate the additional time to source materials.

For clients that want a unique project that supports resource conservation and sustainable building, salvaged lumber can produce some unparalleled results.

Permitting & Certification

As the use of salvaged lumber continues to grow in popularity, both in residential and commercial applications, standards for permitting and building code acceptability are becoming clearer and more accommodating. Some organizations that work to salvage lumber have already taken steps to assist designers and contractors who wish to use salvaged lumber. Portland's ReBuilding Center has a lumber re-grader on staff (Jeremy) who can re-grade salvaged lumber. In some cases, you may find salvaged lumber that still has the original grade or engineer's stamp on it.

There is still some debate about the ability to 'trust' lengthy beams, glulams or other engineered lumber for reuse and may of the builders and engineers we spoke with suggest having these items 're-certified' by a licensed engineer, especially for commercial use. For larger projects, this additional step can be cost effective.

Joe VonDrak, president of Troutdale's Pacific Crest Construction has a great deal of experience with salvaged lumber. His firm has restored nearly ever McMenamin's facility and each of these sites relies heavily on salvaged materials of all kinds.

"We've had tremendous success in using salvaged lumber in all of our projects," says VonDrak. "We had one project that called for a very open-air, barn-like design. We re-used an old beam from a previous project. The single beam ran more than 70 feet in length and when we had it re-certified, we found the strength parameters actually exceeded some of the new products we had available to us."