Reclaimed lumber is used wood that has been taken for re-use. Often this is wood from long-standing idle buildings, and it's sometimes refinished for new purposes. Most reclaimed lumber comes from timbers and decking rescued from old barns, factories and warehouses and some companies have been known to source wood from less traditional structures such as boxcars, coal mines, and wine barrels. Reclaimed or antique lumber is used primarily for decoration and home building and is often used for siding, architectural details, cabinetry, furniture and flooring.

Wood originsEdit

In the United States of America, wood once functioned as the primary building material because it was strong, relatively inexpensive and abundant. Today many of these woods that were once plentiful are only available in large qualities through reclamation. One common reclaimed wood, longleaf pine, was used in factories and warehouses built during the Industrial Revolution. Longleaf heart pine was once the most functional wood for construction in America. It was slow-growing (taking 200 to 400 years to mature), tall, straight, and had a natural ability to resist mold and insects.[1] More importantly, it was abundant. Longleaf yellow pine grew in thick forests that spanned over 140,000 square miles (360,000 km2).[2]

Another previously common wood for building was the American Chestnut. Beginning in 1904, a chestnut blight spread across the US killing billions of American Chestnuts. Before the wood was destroyed, it was used to build barns and other structures, which preserved the wood for later reuse when these structures were later dismantled.

Barns serve as one of the most common sources for reclaimed wood in the United States. Barns constructed up through the early part of the 19th century were typically built using whatever trees were right there on the property. They often contain a mixed blend of oak, chestnut and other woods including poplar, hickory and pine. Beam sizes were limited to what could be moved by man and horse. The wood was either hand hewn using an axe or squared with an adze. Early settlers also recognized the oak from its European sub-species. Soon red, white, black, scarlet, willow, post and pin oak varieties were being cut and transformed into barns too.

Mill buildings throughout the southeast also provide an abundant source of reclaimed wood. Some of these buildings and complexes comprise more than a million square feet of floorspace and can yield three to five times that amount of board feet of flooring. These buildings also often have no economic or reuse possibility and can be a fire hazard, as well as having varying degrees of environmental cleanup required. Reclaiming lumber and brick from retired mills puts these materials to a good use instead of a landfill.

Properties of reclaimed lumberEdit

Reclaimed lumber is popular for many reasons: the wood's unique appearance, its contribution to green building, the history of the wood's origins and the wood's physical characteristics such as strength, stability and durability. Reclaimed beams can be sawn into wider planks than the harvested lumber and many companies purport that their products are more stable than newly cut wood because reclaimed wood has been exposed to changes in humidity for far longer and therefore more stable, allowing them to be used with radiant heating systems. In some cases, the timbers from which the boards were cut have been slightly expanding and contracting for over a century in their previous installation. Radiant heat, with its low temperatures and even distribution affects the wood flooring the same way, but the impact is much less dramatic with antique wood than newly sawn wood because antique wood has already been through this cycle for years.

Reclaimed lumber industryEdit

The reclaimed lumber industry gained momentum in the early 1980s on the West Coast when large-scale reuse of softwoods began. The industry grew due to a growing concern for environmental impact as well as declining quality in new lumber.[3] On the East Coast, industry pioneers began selling reclaimed wood in the early 1970s but the industry stayed mostly small until the 1990s as waste disposal increased and deconstruction became the more economically savvy alternative to demolition.[4]


The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the USGBC's benchmark for designing, building and operating green buildings. To become certified, projects must first meet the prerequisites designated by the USGBC then earn a certain number of credits within the six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation & design process. Using reclaimed wood can earn credits towards achieving LEED project certification. Because reclaimed wood is considered recycled content, it meets the Materials & Resources criteria for LEED certification and because some reclaimed lumber products are FSC certified, they can qualify for LEED credits under the “certified wood” category.[5]


With reclaimed material being so popular, it is becoming more difficult to source. With such a high demand, some sellers try to pass newer wood off as antique.

It is also common (although not necessarily done intentionally) for species to be misidentified because it is difficult to tell the difference in older material unless it is cut open and examined, leaving the material less desirable.

Reclaimed lumber is typically more expensive than new lumber primarily due to expenses associated with dismantling, sorting, and preparing the wood.

Reclaimed lumber sometimes has pieces of metal embedded in it, such as broken off nails, so planing it can often ruin planer blades. Nail compatible saw blades are advisable for the same reason, plus safety.

References Edit

  1. Floridata: Pinus palustris
  2. Longleaf Pine Forests and Longleaf Alliance Home
  4. Recycled lumber enjoys rebirth | Home Channel News | Find Articles at
  5. Usgbc: Leed
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