Upcycling, or reusing discarded objects to create a higher quality or more valuable end product, is the new environmentally friendly approach to home renovations and can take many forms, such as salvaging reclaimed wood, repurposing antique appliances, using old windows to make a greenhouse, or repurposing old timber for a mantel.
A growing trend in home renovations is utilizing reclaimed wood as an accent piece or wall, piece of furniture, or decor statement. Before you decide to use reclaimed wood in your next home improvement project, compare the pros and cons of using reclaimed wood to determine if utilizing this sustainable and unique resource is right for you or not.
What is reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood is any wood that has been previously used for other purposes but is no longer usable or needed. It's then deconstructed and repurposed for another project. Sources of reclaimed wood can include barns, homes, ships, boxcars, pallets, railroad ties, bowling alleys, or any other wood structures. New uses for the wood might include flooring, walls, countertops, desks, tables, swings, accent walls or finishes, or any other wood structures.
Pros of using reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood has a worn, almost rugged look that offers something freshly milled lumber just isn't capable of achieving. Every piece is unique, with different cuts, knobs, nail holes, and weathering in each board. Solid wood is a classic and timeless feature that fits with any decor.
There is a sense of history and story behind the wood, which can be very appealing to some homeowners. It could be salvaged from a sailboat that got damaged in a hurricane or from an old barn that was hand-hewn hundreds of years ago. It's certainly something different to talk about when you have guests over for dinner and can offer character to the property.
Most reclaimed wood has already gone through the drying stage and is well cured, making it very strong, with no chance of warping. Much of it was harvested from old-growth forests instead of the young trees harvested in today's times, making the wood itself stronger on that basis alone.
Reclaimed wood really stands out from the environmentally friendly standpoint. Instead of further deforesting the land and disrupting ecosystems, using reclaimed wood allows you to save trees and fossil fuels simply by revitalizing what has already been harvested. Homeowners and homebuilders can even get LEED certification for reusing materials in renovations.
Cons of using reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood, although sustainable, is still a finite resource. With high consumer demand, there have been counterfeit products -- newly cut low-grade timber -- sold as salvage. A Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance certification ensures that your dealer is actually selling you authentic reclaimed wood.
In that same vein, high demand typically means high prices. Reclaimed wood can be expensive if you're purchasing through a dealer, which is how most homeowners will likely source their materials. On the flip side, if you're willing to deconstruct yourself and find an owner who's looking to get rid of the structure, you could potentially get it for free.
The character and uniqueness of each salvaged board can also be a negative aspect in its own right. Reclaimed wood boards are typically not standard cuts and can vary greatly in size or shape, which can make construction difficult even for experienced contractors. If you intend on preserving the character, things like knots in the wood or previous damage can make fitting it all together a challenge.
One of the biggest reservations many have about using reclaimed wood is the potential pest issues. If it isn't treated at all, you could wind up with an insect infestation in your home. If it's been treated with anything other than kiln drying, there are likely toxicity issues you could be bringing into your home.