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Reclaimed Wood: Everything You Need to Know

Reclaimed wood or lumber is processed wood that has been retrieved from old buildings for reuse. Reclaimed lumber companies carefully deconstruct wood elements in old structures, preserving the shape and integrity of beams and boards so that they can be used in a new building project.

The reclaimed lumber industry first bloomed on the West Coast during the 1980s. At the time, lumber and construction industry experts were concerned that the quality of available lumber just wasn’t up to par when compared to older materials. The reclaimed wood movement also gained traction as more and more builders and consumers began to look for low-waste construction methods and sustainably-sourced building materials.

The popularity of reclaimed wood reflects a shift in common building practices. Many high-end restaurants, offices, and residential designers have increasingly sought eco-friendly building materials as well as ways to impart character and history on an architectural space. For many, the history, natural beauty, and ingenuity of reclaimed wood provide the perfect answer to that call.

What Makes Reclaimed Wood Desirable?

During early U.S. history, an abundance of natural forests meant that many, if not most, buildings were made from wood. Much of the wood used in barns and homes alike came from sturdy, mature tree species that had been growing for decades (if not centuries). Slow-growing species like Douglas Fir, Longleaf Pine, Redwood, and American Chestnut were preferred because they were both abundant and strong.

However, after years of logging and a few biological blights, these species are much more difficult to find in nature. Many species are now illegal to log, making today’s lumber market dominated by quick-growing but less sturdy species.

Many old buildings still feature the timber from the slow-growth species of earlier days. Though the buildings may no longer be habitable, the wood is perfect for repurposing in other building projects. As such, reclaimed wood from historic barns and buildings is highly sought after.  

Common Sources of Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood often comes from industrial, commercial, and agricultural buildings that are no longer in use. These old structures needed to be both large and strong to support the work that went on inside, making them the perfect candidates for holding large quantities of reclaimable lumber. Some common sources for high-quality reclaimed wood include:

  • Old barns and stables
  • Factories and warehouses
  • Retired watercraft
  • Train stations and box cars
  • Wine casts
  • Mills
  • Coal mines
  • Mountain snow fence

Common Uses and Applications

Today, reclaimed wood is highly sought after for its beauty, durability, and interesting history. It can be used both as a decorative element and as a sturdy surface for flooring, walls, tables, and more.

Reclaimed wood is particularly popular in restaurants and pubs since slow-growing species have rich and unusual colors that give a space traditional beauty. Designer homes, offices, colleges, and many other buildings also choose reclaimed wood to complement their space.

Key Benefits of Using Reclaimed Wood

Using reclaimed wood isn’t for everyone. Finding the correct species, quantity, and cut can be more challenging than working with traditionally harvested lumber. Reclaimed wood can also come with an added cost.

However, for those who value sustainability and who long to add a unique touch to their design project, reclaimed wood has many compelling benefits. Here are just a few reasons reclaimed wood is in such demand:

  • Reclaimed Wood Can Help Your Building Achieve LEED Certification

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a measuring tool for designing and operating green buildings. Projects must meet a series of qualifications on a scored system in a number of categories, one of which includes using sustainable materials and resources. Achieving LEED status is a great way to show that you’re protecting the environment, and using reclaimed wood can help you reach that lofty goal.

  • Reclaimed Wood Is Often Rare, Exotic, And Unattainable Elsewhere

Many beautiful, previously-popular species of wood cannot be found on lumber markets due to their rarity or environmental threats. The use of tropical species is especially frowned upon because of rainforest deforestation. However, it is possible to find old, reclaimed wood made from these rare and special species. If you want to enjoy and protect the beauty of forests around the world, purchasing and repurposing reclaimed pieces is a great first step.  

  • Reclaimed Wood Can Add Property Value

Reclaimed wood with historical interest tends to get more valuable over time, especially as the demand for reclaimed lumber continues to rise. Choosing reclaimed wood for a renovation project can add both beauty and considerable value to your space.

  • Reclaimed Wood Has Special Character and History As previously mentioned, many designers and customers love knowing that the wood in their home or restaurant was once used in a mill or train station. Who wouldn’t love to look at the knots and scratches in your reclaimed wood floor and wonder who might have tread there generations ago?
  • Reclaimed Wood Has Stood the Test of Time Finally, many reclaimed wood suppliers ensure buyers that the timber is far denser and more durable than newly harvested wood. The older wood has withstood decades of exposure to fluctuations in humidity, and consequently, many believe that reclaimed timber is less prone to warping. In any case, reclaimed wood can undoubtedly promise years of weathering and strength that quick-growth wood simply cannot match.

If you’re looking for beautiful, historic, strong, and sustainable wood for your restaurant or renovation project, consider using reclaimed wood. Centuries-old beams have amazing stories to tell, and choosing reclaimed wood can help to protect forests for centuries to come.