Recycled-Wood Flooring

Q. We want a new hardwood floor and are trying to be environmentally responsible. What are our options for using recycled wood?

A. They include everything from flooring salvaged from old gymnasiums and bowling alleys to lumber from trees uprooted by windstorms. These days, many flooring companies have access to recycled wood and offer it for flooring, though it generally costs more than new wood. The labor involved in dismantling old buildings and pulling nails out of boards ups the price, says Chuck Crispin, president of Birger Juell (131 Merchandise Mart, 312-464-9663; birgerjuell.com).

Several local firms specialize in unusually sourced wood. Horigan Urban Forest Products (8110 Monticello Ave., Skokie, 847-568-1340; horiganufp.com) sells hardwood from trees in the Chicago area that have fallen victim to storm damage, disease, or construction. (If you have an old walnut tree that’s leaning dangerously in your backyard, have it taken down and Horigan will custom mill and kiln-dry the wood for any project you have in mind.)

The firm’s mission, says Erika Horigan, who owns the company with her husband, Bruce, is to save lumber from trees that would normally go into the shredder for mulch and sawdust, to reduce the number of trees removed from forests, and to keep carbon sequestered in wood, rather than releasing it into the environment. They have in stock white and red oak, elm, hickory, black walnut, and, occasionally, black cherry, among other species. Pricing is about the same as for wood from a conventional lumberyard—oak is about $5.50 a square foot.

The American Barn Company (3808-10 N. Clark St., 773-327-1560; americanbarncompany.com) also supplies salvaged wood, but its source is quite different—barns, mostly Midwestern, that are about to be demolished due to disrepair or to make way for new development. Wood from the old barns, re-sawn and air- and kiln-dried, can be used for flooring, furniture, or other purposes.

The beauty of it, according to owner Jay T. Wikary, is that it comes from 100- to 200-year-old barns, which were, in turn, made from lumber from old-growth forests, so it has the tight grain characteristic of trees that grew slowly. The wood will retain the character of its previous life—nail holes and other signs of wear—so you have to think about where you’re using it. Samples of pine and oak flooring are on display in the showroom; stock regularly includes white and red oak, cherry, maple, walnut, ash, and poplar at prices ranging from $5 to $15 a square foot.

Another source for lumber is the nation’s inland waterways. There is a bounty of submerged timbers left over from the 1800s, when logging mills transported wood by floating it across lakes and down rivers. Many timbers were lost along the way, becoming waterlogged and sinking to the bottom. These are irreplaceable specimens from old-growth forests from as far back as  500 years ago.

A company in Ashland, Wisconsin, Timeless Timber (715-685-9663; timelesstimber.com), harvests this wood from lakes and rivers all over the United States and Canada, mills and kiln-dries it, and ships it worldwide. Matt Johnson, a sales and marketing representative at the company, says the wood comes in more colors, has more character, and is denser than fresh wood from new forests. The wood, including some from species of trees no longer commercially available, ranges in price from $4.95 to $14.95 a square foot. 

 

JUST ASK Have a design or renovation question? We’ll do our best to answer it.
E-mail us at chicagohome@chicagomag.com. Sorry, we cannot take questions by phone, or guarantee individual responses.

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