Recycled wood flooring reclaimed from old logs, buildings, homes and farm buildings can transform your green home plans into a showcase.
Benefits of Recycled Wood Flooring
Using recycled wood not only saves the forests from devastation, it brings advantages to a flooring project that can't be experienced with floors made from new growth wood. The key benefits of using recycled wood for flooring are that it is:
- Environmentally-sound - Recycling wood extends the life of the hardwood, diverts old wood from landfills and reduces the need to produce flooring from new wood.
- Durable - The wood often comes from old growth trees which have a tighter grain and are harder and denser than new wood.
- Weathered with a well-used appearance - The floor takes on a distinctive character that you would not have with new wood.
- Showing signs of craftsmanship - The looks of hand finishing and careful staining are evident.
- Lower in cost - The cost of recycled wood is often up to 50 percent less in cost than new growth wood that has been milled, marked and stained to look old.
Where to Find Recycled Flooring
Oak, cherry and chestnut are the woods most often found in old buildings and homes. The wood is reclaimed by property demolition. Another source for reclaimed wood is at the bottom of lakes and rivers where the logs sank during logging operations.
After wood is reclaimed, it is sold to:
- Specialty buyers of old wood - These buyers resell the wood to:
- Lumber mills - The wood is first cleaned and then milled into planks in widths from three to sixteen inches. The wood can even be milled into tongue-and-groove strips such as the edges found on strips made of new wood. The surface of old wood can be finished to be rough-hewn or it can be finely sanded and varnished.
- End users - These individuals use the wood "as is" for a flooring project.
- Local green home builders or home and building owners - These buyers are looking for recycled wood for a pending project, such as an eco-friendly kitchen.
Selecting Recycled Wood Flooring
Hardwood planks will average four to ten inches in width, as compared to new oak flooring strips which are typically two and a half inches wide. Many floor designers will use a variety of widths and lengths in a finished floor. Occasionally very wide planks, up to 24 inches, can be found. However, they are usually softwood such as pine, spruce, fir or hemlock. These very wide planks are usually premium-priced.
Inspect the Wood
Recycled wood flooring should be closely inspected before use regardless of whether the wood is going to be remilled or used "as is":
- If the wood is remilled - There may be discolored sections, but the damaged sections will usually have been removed. Look for wood that has been kiln-dried which will have killed any bugs in the wood. The planks will still show the bug damage.
- If the wood is going to be used "as is" - Look for discolored or damaged sections in the wood. Warped planks or planks with obvious bug damage should be destroyed.
What to Avoid
- Bug damage - Even if the bugs have been killed during kiln-drying, bug-damaged wood has lost some of its density and strength.
- Warped wood - A warped plank will create a warped floor. Any actions taken to correct the warp will probably be ineffective. It is better to just not use a warped board.
- Very short lengths - It is often difficult to achieve a stable floor if very short lengths are used without a stable underlayment into which the planks can be nailed.
Installing a Floor
Each plank should be inspected before installation. Flooring that came from out buildings such as barns may have holes, knots and nail holes. They should be filled with a pigmented epoxy.
The planks should be laid out on the floor surface and then evaluated for the overall look of the floor. Be sure the resulting floor has a pleasing layout of knots and that any dark spots are evenly distributed over the entire floor surface. Mis-matched planks can make a very attractive floor if special care is taken in arranging the planks.
The recycled planks are installed just like new wood flooring. Planks and tongue-and-groove strips can be nailed directly to a wood subfloor. The planks can also be laid over a cement floor onto which a plywood underlayment has been installed.
A floor made from salvaged hardwood should be sanded after installation. Be particularly alert for nails or other metal particles that can be hidden in a plank. They should be carefully removed to avoid any of the pieces becoming airborne during sanding. Good safety insurance would include buying or borrowing a metal detector to inspect the floor before the start of a sanding project.
Caring For Your Floor
As with all wood flooring, the enemies are water and dirt. To keep your flooring looking as great as it did after installation, you should:
- Keep it dry - The wood will expand when it gets wet. Vertically-grained planks (grain running the length of the plank) will get wider when they get wet. Horizontally-grained planks will either roll up at the sides or push up in the middle of the plank.
- Keep it clean - Ground-in dirt will wear down the finish. Sweep, dust or vacuum the floor regularly.
For More Information
- Green Building Resource Guide
- First Impressions: Fresh Looks for Entryways, Hallways, and Foyers
- Natural Life Magazine - The online version of Natural Life Magazine, a sustainable living magazine.
- Aged Woods - A retailer of re-milled recycled flooring materials.
- Greendesign.net - A website of ideas and tips on all aspects of green home design.