5 Things You Need To Know About Reclaimed Wood
Reclaimed wood is wildly popular. You may have potential clients asking for reclaimed wood floors. But if you don’t have experience with reclaimed wood, you could easily overlook some critical truths and make some bad decisions.
Fortunately, reclaimed wood has been having its moment for a few decades. The industry has learned a lot about how to make sure practical use of reclaimed wood lives up to its promises. The body of knowledge is there for you to draw on. Let’s start with these five truths about reclaimed wood.
Reclaimed Wood is Environmentally Friendly
Alright, this one you probably already know. Reclaimed wood’s sustainability is one reason it’s so popular. But you may not know just how many different ways reclaimed is good for the environment. Reclaimed wood:
- Helps reduce deforestation.
- Consumes fewer energy resources. The USDA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that harvesting, transporting, and processing virgin wood needs 11 to 13 times the energy compared to using reclaimed wood for flooring.
- Saves the wood from the landfill or disposal through burning. Keeping it away from either option reduces pollution and waste.
But here’s something that may surprise you: Some reclaimed wood can present its own environmental issue. On older wood, the paint used may have had lead in it. Or it may have been treated with chemicals no longer used.
In some cases, the reclaimed wood can be rehabilitated. In some cases, it can’t.
Working with reclaimed wood definitely has a net positive effect on the environment. Learn the backstory of the reclaimed wood you use. Sharing the backstory with the owners is at least 50% of its charm.
It will also ensure you know that the reclaimed wood meets your sustainability standards. You can also choose to use reclaimed wood that’s been FSC Certified Recycled.
Reclaimed Wood Varies in Quality
Reclaimed wood’s appeal is its high ranking on the charm and aesthetics scales. Don’t let these attributes blind you to the fact that reclaimed wood varies in quality. You want to make sure you’re picking pieces that will create a beautiful floor for the long haul.
Start by looking at how the reclaimed wood was milled after reclamation. Were any defects removed? Reclaimed wood often has nails and knots that need to be removed for the piece to work as flooring.
The original surface of the reclaimed wood may not have been sanded flat. You don’t want to buy a batch of reclaimed wood planks of uneven height and find yourself with overwood and underwood issues, where a plank is higher or lower than its neighbors. Great aesthetics won’t make up for installing an unleveled floor.
Also, consider only buying wood that was end-matched, meaning that it has been precision trimmed with a tongue and groove profile at both ends of the board material. If you don’t buy the reclaimed wood already cut into a tongue and groove profile, you’ll have to buy longer planks to trim it yourself. Unless you’re skilled in end-matching wood, you’re likely to waste a high percentage of it. That may increase your time requirement too.
You also need to think about sourcing enough reclaimed wood for a project. Some projects call for mixed species or color variations. Others will want a uniform appearance. In that case, you need to consider whether reclaimed planks with different origins will create the look the owners want.
Finding quality reclaimed wood comes down to creating relationships with source mills and vendors you can trust. Find people with expertise and quality controls you can rely on to provide quality reclaimed wood.
Reclaimed Wood Can Last For Decades
Listen, it’s already lasted for decades. Don’t confuse being old with being fragile. Of course, you need to consider the species and whether it’s good wood for flooring.
Oak, maple, and hickory make durable floors, whether new or reclaimed wood. Choose the species based on its ability to withstand the traffic volume expected for a floor.
Reclaimed wood may be more durable than new wood. Some reclaimed wood is old-growth if you can find it. Old-growth trees were able to grow deep into maturity before being felled. As a result, their internal fiber is denser, making them more durable than wood from younger trees.
Old-growth lumber can be up to 40 points harder on the Janka scale than virgin lumber. Look at the end grains of a plank. Old-growth wood has very tight rings.
The planks from old-growth trees milled over a hundred years ago will also likely be wider than today’s conventional measurements. They could cut wider planks because the trees were larger. If you can find a reclaimed floor made from old-growth trees – that’s gold.
Even if the reclaimed wood isn’t from old-growth trees, it has already weathered quite a lot. Give it the proper care that all wood floors require, and it can continue to last for a long time.
Last, how and when you finish a reclaimed wood floor impacts its longevity. When picking a finish, again consider the expected traffic volume for the floor. You also need to make sure the wood has acclimated before applying the finish.
Yes, You Still Need to Address Moisture in Reclaimed Wood
Moisture is always an issue with wood. No matter where it’s been, you need to make sure the wood you want to install has acclimated to its in-service surroundings. If the installed wood has excess moisture or is too dry, the floor could buckle, warp, or weaken the sealant.
Fully acclimated wood no longer exchanges moisture with its surroundings. This is the point when the wood has reached its equilibrium moisture content (EMC). That is, the wood no longer absorbs or releases moisture with the air around it.
If the wood’s moisture content is within a couple of percentage points of its EMC, it is sufficiently acclimated and safe to install. If the discrepancy is larger, the reclaimed wood could still shrink or expand and should not be installed until it more fully acclimates.
Moisture can get into reclaimed wood in many ways. The wood often needs to get cleaned before using, which can mean anything from steam to soapy water to using a pressure washer. Some reclaimed wood is actually from logs that have been submerged underwater for over a century.
Often, reclaimed wood has been kiln-dried to kill any potential bug infestation. Mold and bug infestations are common with barn wood and other external reclaimed wood. Kiln-dried wood is good for ensuring there aren’t lurking issues. But it may mean the wood is too dry for its end-use location until it acclimates.
The way to know for certain whether the reclaimed wood has reached its EMC is to measure its moisture content with a wood moisture meter.
Reclaimed Wood Installs Like New Wood
Once you’ve selected quality reclaimed wood, it installs like any other wood. By selecting for quality, you’ve already handled issues like uniform level, grain alignment, and fit of the boards.
When it’s time to install, start where you’d always start—by acclimating the wood onsite. Establish what the typical relative humidity and temperature of the end-use location will be and calculate the EMC. Measure the wood with a moisture meter to determine when the wood has reached its EMC.
When you’re picking the finish, consult the manufacturer for a specified moisture tolerance. If there is one, then your moisture meter will also tell you when the wood is within this tolerance range.
Reclaimed wood has a lot of upside. It’s gorgeous, interesting, and sustainable. Be deliberate in your selection process and take time to install properly, including using a wood moisture meter to get accurate information about its moisture content. Follow these truths about reclaimed wood and you’ll be installing dramatic flooring that will last decades.
Previously published in Tomorrow’s Contract Floors magazine