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Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Choose A Floor With A History

Reclaimed wood flooring offers a truly distinctive choice when it comes to wood floors. Rather than installing a floor from just recently harvested ordinary wood, why not install a floor with a history behind it?

If nothing else, it's a green way to go since no existing trees are consumed.

And who knows? The trees that provided the wood on your reclaimed wood floor might just have been around during the American Revolution. If your floors could only talk...!

But even if you're not wowed by its heritage, recycled wood floors have several things going for them that regular "new wood" just doesn't have. Just remember that there are considerations to think about too. Read on to find out what's special about these floors.

What Exactly Is Reclaimed Wood?

Reclaimed wood is simply wood that has been salvaged from non-use, destruction or decay for the purpose of another useful life. It includes wood from used railroad ties, weathered barn siding, old factory beams and even sunken logs.

It even includes existing trees that were naturally felled because of storms, standing dead trees or those removed from forests and orchards because of urban expansion or declining fruit production (also known as "forest salvaged"). These trees would otherwise be left to rot or be destroyed.

Rather than being incinerated, stuffed in landfills or left to decay, this wood is reclaimed and recycled into a number of products, including reclaimed wood flooring.

old barn

In most cases you'll find that the wood used in these floors had some other useful purpose in a previous life. Many of the old structures in the US that were built in the last two centuries used wood as the predominant structural material. These buildings are now being dismantled and their wood turned into recycled wood flooring.

The companies that produce reclaimed flooring source their wood from different places resulting in a variety of available wood species. Some obtain their wood from their local area, taking advantage of the availability of old abandoned barns and factories. Others literally travel the globe to find different sources of wood, indigenous to the local area.

Different locations yield different types of wood. For example, barns in the midwest United States might yield American Chestnut, oak and elm while factories in the Pacific Northwest might be the source of old growth Douglas Fir.

As countries in Asia continue to modernize, old buildings and structures made from more exotic woods like Teak are being taken down and turned into reclaimed wood flooring. These areas provide the diversity of antique tropical woods that complement the more traditional North American hardwoods and softwoods.

Some companies, such as those that salvage sunken logs, distinguish between "reclaimed" wood and "recovered" wood. They state that reclaimed wood is wood that was previously used, for instance in a building or structure. They define recovered wood as virgin timber that never reached the processing stage. In some cases proponents of this distinction claim that "recovered" wood is of higher quality than "reclaimed" (used) wood because it doesn't have nail holes and other blemishes from past use.

Suffice to say, reclaimed wood and the flooring that results from it can come from just about anywhere. In most cases it was used before and is now finding a useful purpose once again in things like furniture, countertops and reclaimed wood flooring.

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Benefits - What's Not To Like?

Reclaimed wood flooring has a number of benefits, some that you just can't get with new wood.

  • Environmentally friendly
    The fact that reclaimed wood floors reuse wood otherwise destined for the waste stream is a plus for the environment. It saves resources by preserving existing forests and habitats. It avoids filling up landfills with material that's removed from the demolition of old structures.
  • A uniqueness all its own
    Where else can you get a floor made from 500 year old Chinese Elm or old growth Douglas Fir? You can get that with recycled wood flooring which is something today's new wood can't provide. There's a history behind most reclaimed wood that brings an added dimension to a home. It's a physical link to the past. They're attractive too, with colors, grains and patinas not easily found in new-growth wood.
  • Floors made of extinct and exotic wood - responsibly
    Some of the wood used to construct older buildings were made with wood species that for all intents and purposes don't exist for commercial purposes anymore. American Chestnut is one of them. Essentially killed off by a blight that occurred at the turn of the century, American Chestnut isn't available anymore. But you can get it from reclaimed wood.

    Teak, particularly old growth, is rare these days, coming under greater protection from harvesting. Reclaimed teak timbers from buildings disassembled for more modern buildings is a source for old growth teak floors. Reclaimed wood flooring is a way to obtain these rare and protected wood types that you wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

  • Benefits of old growth wood without harming the few existing old growth forests

    reclaimed wood beams

    'Old growth' isn't just what's hiding in the back of your refrigerator. It's a term that describes wood harvested from trees that took centuries to mature. Old growth wood has physical characteristics like a tight, dense grain and clarity that younger 'new growth' doesn't. As a result it's a strong and highly desirable type of wood.

    Installing a floor made from old growth Douglas Fir, culled from century-old beams, is possible with reclaimed wood flooring. And it comes with no impact to the few remaining stands of old growth forest.

  • It's available with modern amenities too
    Reclaimed wood floors are also available from some sources in an engineered form. This allows you to install the floor in places that solid wood can't go, such as basements for example. A top surface of reclaimed wood is laminated to a substrate in the same manner as modern-day engineered hardwood floors.

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Drawbacks And Points To Consider Before Choosing

It's easy to get caught up in some of the romance associated with reclaimed wood floors. It's fun being able to say your floors were once part of an old brewing vat from the Guinness® Brewery in Ireland. But before you get too emotionally wound up, step back and take a look at these considerations to help make a clear decision.

  • It's still a wood floor - choose wisely
    Remember that these are still floors after all. Keep in mind the same things about choosing a wood floor when you're contemplating a reclaimed wood floor. In other words, consider the room, the type of environment, the traffic it will experience, etc.

    There's also things like hardness and surface finish to consider. Harder woods stand up to wear and tear better than soft wood. You won't want to feel like you can never walk on your ancient teak floors for fear of the dreaded scratch or dent. Understanding up front that this will eventually happen will mitigate those fears (or convince you to buy another type of flooring).

  • Environmental, social and historic impact awareness
    Making responsible buying decisions means knowing a little more about the origin of your reclaimed wood floor. The recycled aspect of reclaimed wood flooring is great as long as obtaining it doesn't come at the expense of the local environment, economy or cultural heritage.

    Some sources of recycled wood possess certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), maintaining that their products are obtained in an environmentally responsible way. Other sources obtain certification from the Rainforest Alliance through their SmartWood certification program. The certification involves chain-of-custody verification and validation of environmentally and socially responsible practices for the recovery of wood products.

    Using sources with such certification will ensure your reclaimed floors have a clean record.

  • A finite supply and frequently changing inventory
    The amount of rare, antique and old growth wood that's available is finite. There are only so many old structures and other sources of these woods that exist. So, if you intend to buy it might make sense to procure some additional material for any repairs or expansion later on. You might not want to delay too long either if the wood you're contemplating is from a limited source. There may not be any or enough left if you wait too long.

reclaimed wood flooringArmstrong's Homerwood Reclaimed American Hardwood From The Old Barns Of The Eastern U.S.
Photo Courtesy Of Armstrong World Industries

  • Not found in your local home center
    One of the drawbacks with reclaimed wood flooring is that the products typically aren't sold at traditional retail outlets. This is more of a specialty type of product and as such, you'll need to deal directly with the companies that sell this type of flooring. Any products you purchase are shipped directly to you.

One final note about reclaimed wood flooring is that the majority of vendors don't have pricing information included on their website. Some do but a lot don't. You'll have to contact them by calling, emailing or using their contact form for that type of specific information.

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What Does It Cost?

The cost of recycled wood flooring will vary depending on the species, the rarity of the wood and the available supply. Prices range anywhere from $4.00 per square foot for cabin-grade antique pine up to $30.00 per square foot for antique chestnut.

The following price ranges are given as an example for the various types of wood. Keep in mind that inventories change and pricing reflects the quality, grade and quantity of reclaimed wood available at any given time.

Wood Species Cost Range Per Sq. Foot
Antique Chestnut $8 - $30
Antique Heart Pine $4 - $22
Antique Oak $8 - $17
Antique Maple $8 - $13
Douglas Fir $7 - $20
Tropical Hardwoods (varied) $9 - $19

In comparison to new wood floors, the costs are slightly higher on average. The average cost of uninstalled new wood flooring is in the $3 to $12 per square foot range. (Exotic woods are more, with the higher end around $20 per square foot.)

Part of what drives the cost of recycled wood flooring is the amount of work involved in procossing the reclaimed wood. It has to be extracted from its original location which in many cases is part of an old structure, requiring careful de-construction. Or, the wood has to be raised from the bottom of rivers and lakes.

Next, it's de-nailed as necessary and rid of any other metallic items imbedded in the wood. This tedious task is done by hand. After de-nailing, the wood is cut and milled to its final form and then dried to remove any moisture.

In the end the result can be a beautiful piece of wood. But it didn't come without effort, nor the economies of mass-production, which factor into its overall cost.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Wood Flooring - Choosing the right kind of wood flooring might seem a bit overwhelming but this article breaks the process of what you need to know down into manageable steps.

Wide Plank Wood Flooring - How about a unique look for your wood floor? Check out the article on choosing wide plank wood flooring as a unique style option.

Exotic Hardwood Floors - You're probably familiar with oak, maple and hickory but what about those woods with the not-so-familiar names? Find out what there is to know about choosing an exotic wood floor in this article.

Unfinished Hardwood Floors - Should you choose pre-finished hardwood floors or unfinished? See this article to find out what's involved with an unfinished floor as compared to a pre-finished wood floor.

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