Homeowners who have environmental concerns about installing wood floors but like the beauty of oak, maple, and pine now have options due to a relatively new industry that is quickly gaining traction. Reclaimed and recovered wood floors are now available in almost every market in the United States and can provide a second or even third life for timber.

Reclaimed wood floors are loaded with natural character. Photo: Clay Gilpin | Dreamstime
Reclaimed wood floors are loaded with natural character. Clay Gilpin | Dreamstime

Salvaged wood can come from a surprising number of sources. While old barns have traditionally been a reliable source for reclaimed wood, this resource is becoming scarce. But, as demand for reclaimed wood has risen, companies have started to find other sources for the material and expanded the definition of reclaimed wood.

Today, industrial buildings slated for demolition, condemned structures, and even bowling alleys provide an increasing amount of reclaimed wood for the home improvement market.

Wood pulled from the bottoms of creeks and rivers is another source for flooring. In the past, logging operations often floated timber down rivers and creeks to be milled. During the process, a certain percentage of the timber would sink to the bottom. Until just recently, salvaging this wood was too expensive, but, as the demand for reclaimed and recovered wood has risen, some companies are now plumbing the depths for these sunken treasures.

Recovered timber from forest fires can also be salvaged and milled for flooring. Often this wood is stained or marked by the intense heat of the fire, giving it a unique look.

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Though sometimes twice the cost of traditionally milled hardwood floors, reclaimed wood floors combine an aesthetic quality with environmental responsibility. Black walnut, cypress, redwood, cherry, and even the now-extinct American chestnut can be sourced, as can traditional oak, pine, and maple.

The look and feel of reclaimed and recovered wood is often varied and irregular, with natural knots, worm holes, saw marks, and color variations. Newer recovered wood can be scraped and stained (distressed) to create an antiqued look.

Whenever possible, reclaimed wood is milled into wide planks to highlight the age and feel of the wood. Though some reclaimed wood has tongue-and-groove edges, most often installation is slat style. Rough edges and gaps in the flooring between planks is to be expected (if not encouraged) to enhance the authentic appearance.

The SCS has created the “100% SALVAGED WOOD from Recovered Submerged Timber” designation. SmartWood is another third-party certification body that evaluates forest product operations that are reclaiming, recycling, and/or salvaging wood materials.

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About Don Vandervort
An avid builder and remodeler, Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort