A Comparison Of Three Sources Of Reclaimed Pine Flooring

by Nicola Temple on March 7, 2012

Reclaimed pine flooring can add character and warmth to any room, without having to cut down a single tree. The character, durability and environmental benefits of using reclaimed wood have made it very popular in recent decades.

We’ve talked about the many advantages of using reclaimed wood before here on EcoVillageGreen, but when it comes to reclaimed pine flooring, there can also be some more subtle advantages depending on the source of the wood.

There are generally three sources of old pine for floors: pine flooring that is taken up from old homes and refinished, reclaimed beams from old buildings that are then milled into flooring planks, and flooring milled from logs salvaged from river and lake bottoms.

I’ll discuss the broader advantages and drawbacks of using reclaimed pine flooring below, but first, let’s discuss the details of these three sources of old pine.

reclaimed pine flooring

The reclaimed pine flooring in this picture is made from twelve inch boards collected from a century-old barn. Talk about character! CC image courtesy of Katie Hargrave on Flickr.

Reclaimed pine flooring: This is pine flooring that is painstakingly removed from old homes likely slated for demolition. The boards then have all the nails removed and are usually hand sanded and inspected for weaknesses. The advantage is that this wood has already been tried and tested for perhaps a hundred years or more as a floor. It has been exposed to humidity changes and stress and so when it gets turned into a new floor, there are no surprises with respect to swelling or weak spots. Of course, the other end of things is that it has been through a lot of wear and pine is soft, so all these dents and scrapes go into the history of the floor. While this creates the character that is so sought after, there are some cases of having too much character!

Reclaimed beams turned into flooring: Longleaf pine in particular was commonly used as beams in large buildings during the Industrial Revolution in the US. Not only because it was readily available, but also because its resins gave the beams a natural resistance to mold and insects. These beams, when reclaimed, can be milled into new floorboards. The advantage here is that you are essentially getting new floorboards (i.e. they’ve never been walked on, painted etc) but without having to cut down a single tree. You get a floor with a significant history, but without a hundred years of wear and tear as well.  It’s also suggested that flooring milled from old beams is more stable because it has been exposed to changes in humidity for many decades already.

Sunken treasure milled into new floors: There is a great deal of timber submerged in the bottom of lakes and rivers throughout Canada and the US. As logs were sent down rivers or moved across lakes as part of the logging process at the end of the 19th century, many became waterlogged and sank. These logs have been preserved at depth by cold waters and are the last remnants of the old growth forests that our ancestors relished. Many companies are exploiting this resource and putting down chainsaws and putting on SCUBA gear to salvage this precious resource. Just like the reclaimed beams, this wood has the advantage of making what are essentially new floors, but out of reclaimed wood. The video below highlights one company in the US that’s doing just this. They are particularly after pine heartwood. This is the wood at the centre of old growth pines that has undergone a chemical transformation that makes it more resistant to decay. The heartwood is usually distinct in color from the younger outer sapwood, where active transportation of water and nutrients is still occurring. It’s a great example of a business taking advantage of a resource that would otherwise go to waste and turning it into a premium product.

Four advantages of using reclaimed pine flooring regardless of the source:

  1. The wood comes in widths that simply aren’t available in modern timber.
  2. There is character in the wood; your floor comes with a story.
  3. It is a wonderful way to recycle building materials and therefore put less demand on our growing forests.
  4. Using reclaimed wood earns credits toward LEED certification through the US Green Building Council as it is considered recycled content.

Two drawbacks of using reclaimed pine flooring:

  1. Due to its popularity, reclaimed pine flooring is getting more and more difficult to source. If you scan the websites of companies that specialize in reclaimed pine flooring, you see that they encourage pre-ordering simply because once they find a source, the wood gets scooped up by the market very quickly.
  2. Reclaimed pine flooring is also more expensive than new pine flooring. This is partly because of the challenge of sourcing, but also because there is often a great deal of labour involved in the reclamation process. Particularly if it’s reclaimed flooring, then nails have to be removed, and the planks are usually hand sanded to restore their natural lustre.

These are relatively minor drawbacks when you consider the advantages.

If you are thinking of installing reclaimed pine flooring, you should also know that you can even find a number of the finishing touches in reclaimed pine also, including stair noses, moldings, and thresholds. It’s such a great way to recycle building materials. Good luck with your sourcing!

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