What To Know About Reclaimed Wood Flooring
Reclaimed wood flooring is ecologically smart and offers a way to own a part of history. It's a more practical option than you might expect.
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Data from Grand View Research pegged the global reclaimed wood market at a hefty $49 billion in 2020, and it’s expected to keep growing through 2028.
The bulk of reclaimed wood goes into furniture manufacturing. Some is used to manufacture structural timber and paneling, with a significant portion milled into flooring. The reclaimed wood market is particularly robust in China where, as elsewhere, it’s motivated primarily by ecological considerations, such as expanding recycling and reducing landfill waste.
This doesn’t mean you have to buy your reclaimed wood flooring from China. There are many North American sources for reclaimed flooring, primarily in the eastern U.S. and Canada. If you can’t find one near you, you can always do your shopping on Instagram. That, according to Robert Kundel of Restorer Tools, is one of the best places to find reclaimed wood products, including flooring.
What Is Reclaimed Flooring?
Reclaimed wood flooring can be actual flooring removed from an existing building, or milled from wood previously used for siding, fencing, paneling or other purposes.
Used flooring boards are particularly prized for their smooth appearance and polished patina only possible after years of wear. Some have saw marks, wormholes and other indicators of age that add to the character.
Wood reclaimed from 100- and 200-year-old buildings is often superior to contemporary milled flooring. It comes from old-growth trees and was often milled in ways considered wasteful today. Boards may be primarily heartwood, or rift-sawn or quarter-sawn to produce grain patterns you won’t find in contemporary flooring. You can sometimes find species that are no longer widely available, like American chestnut, elm and heart pine.
Wood flooring milled from reclaimed wood more closely resembles new flooring, but still features the wormholes, nail holes and faded coloration that reveal its age. There is also engineered flooring manufactured with a wear layer of reclaimed wood over a plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF) core.
Not all reclaimed flooring is of the same quality. Much depends on the type of wood, where it comes from and how it’s processed. However, if you purchase a product certified by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), you can be sure it has been vetted for rot and other defects, and probably kiln-dried to resist warping.
Where To Buy Reclaimed Flooring
If an old home, office building or factory is being demolished in your area, you may be in luck. Contractors often take great pains to remove old flooring intact and offer it for sale.
Such flooring will likely have been sanded and refinished at least once and possibly more, so it’s important to make sure the layer above the tongues and grooves is at least 3/16-in. thick. A thinner layer may crack after installation, and you won’t be able to sand and refinish it.
More likely, your source will be a retailer, but be wary of large-scale operations. Some sell products that have been distressed to look like the real thing, but are actually manufactured from new wood. Some of the specialty suppliers that offer reclaimed wood flooring include:
- Aged Woods: Specializes in engineered reclaimed flooring.
- Canadian Salvaged Timber: Mills reclaimed oak, elm, maple, ash, hemlock and pine into flooring.
- Jarmack Reclaimed Wood: Sells flooring manufactured from reclaimed heart pine, oak and maple.
- Ohio Valley Reclaimed Wood: Recycles barn wood into flooring and other products.
- Pacific Hardwood Flooring: Sources wood for flooring from mines, barrels, decks, boxcars and pallets.
- Reclaimed Flooring Company: Offers a variety of plank styles and finishes.
- Sylvan Brandt: Salvages flooring from attics of historic homes. A good source of chestnut flooring.
This list isn’t exhaustive and goes to show it may be easier to find a source of reclaimed flooring for your living room than you think.
How Much Does Reclaimed Wood Flooring Cost?
According to Southern Reclaimed Vintage Wood & Brick, the price of reclaimed flooring runs from $5 to $20 per square foot. These four factors that determine the cost:
- Original vs. smooth face: Flooring with a textured original face costs more than flooring milled in a factory with a smooth face.
- Species: Some species, such as chestnut and heart pine, are rare and accordingly more expensive.
- Grade: Fewer defects make for higher-grade lumber that costs more.
- Width and length: Wider boards cost more. Similarly, you pay more for long lengths than you do for shorter ones. You can save money by choosing bundles with random lengths and widths.
Reclaimed flooring costs, on average, about twice as much as new flooring from a big box store. But compared to flooring from a boutique supplier, it costs about the same.
Installing Reclaimed Wood Floors
Reclaimed wood flooring boards have tongues and grooves just like boards made from new wood, so the process of nailing the boards to a properly prepared subfloor is no different. It may even be easier. If you’re satisfied with the appearance of the wood as is, there’s no need to sand and refinish it, and that saves a lot of time and money.
Installing any hardwood floor is challenging to DIY, so you may want to opt for professional installation anyway. That will cost from $2 to $8 per square foot, depending on where you live and the difficulty of the project.