Reclaiming History

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  • Date May 25th, 2012 18:21
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  • What materials can help you earn Green Building Certification points? Today most designers know a handful of keywords that can contribute to certification: recycled content, local, energy efficient, sustainably harvested, and waste materials.

    Reclaimed Wood has enjoyed the limelight thanks to the likes of LEED, 3-Star, BEAM, and a host of other building certification systems. When we built our first projects in Shanghai, Reclaimed Wood was easy to find. Ten years ago, with green building in its nascent stages, little attention was paid to sourcing Reclaimed Wood or other 'waste' materials. We very easily sourced wood from the countless Shikumen and Laofangzi that were being razed to build the skyscrapers that adorn Shanghai's skyline today.

    With or without Certification incentives, Reclaimed Wood is specified into nearly all of our green projects because it has distinct performance and air quality benefits and even comes with a story that adds character to any project.

    The decentralization of supply chains and the globalization of markets have cheapened product quality. When a hinge on your laptop fails, who's to blame? With over 200 components, each sourced based on price, your computer is likely made from raw materials and assemblies that span the globe. Tracking the producer of the hinge that made it into your laptop is an exercise I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Such complicated supply chains do not incentivize manufacturers to produce quality goods. Wood is certainly a simpler material than your laptop, though also suffers from supply chain apathy. As the world develops, wood sources are stretched and trees must be harvested earlier and earlier. Higher moisture content and lower density trees make lower quality wood products. Reclaimed Wood is typically pre-shrunk and comes with higher densities and lower moisture contents than virgin wood. This reduces if not eliminates deformations (warping, cracking and shrinkage) and the potential for rot or insect infestation. In addition to keeping wood serviceable longer, higher surface tension can also reduce the quantity of sealants or finishes required to coat Reclaimed Wood cutting out some of the most nefarious building products in the market.

    Air Quality
    Dioxins are nasty persistent chemical compounds that have made many plastics (which can emit Dioxins when produced or burned) a primary adversary of environmentalists. Dioxins have been linked to cancer, though more troubling is the duration of this impact. Persistent and bioaccumulative, the potency of dioxins does not reduce over-time and accumulate in body tissue. More simply, our bodies become increasingly toxic with increased exposure to Dioxins. Clearly, a chemical compound to avoid and an justifiable target for environmentalists. Plastics are a well documented source of dioxins, though wood is a rarely identified source. When burned, wood also releases dioxins - a major argument for using Reclaiming Wood. Life-cycle management is critical for all materials - even the best of materials can be harmful if improperly used or handled. Wood is no different. Ideally following use, wood should be composted or reused to avoid creating Dioxins.

    Most of the Reclaimed Wood we use has actually been reclaimed twice. Wood the decorates Shanghainese houses was commonly first used as ballast on ships coming to China. This wood was then transformed into beams, stairs, floor boards, furniture and paneling in houses throughout Shanghai adding a second layer of history to their fibers. Countless stories and events are sequestered in Reclaimed Wood adding a rich patina to any project. Suppliers such as Imondi have made it their business to track these stories and highlight them as an integral part of their products. People make history, though reclaimed products and historic preservation make them eternal.

    Installation (risk)
    Using Reclaimed Wood does pose a few risks that must be considered. Chemical unknowns are the greatest risk of all materials. Without properly identifying chemical hazards, it is impossible to know how to safely handle them. Even green chemicals can be unsafe if used improperly. Reclaimed wood also comes with layers of whatever finishes, sealants and additives were originally used to treat them. Rarely can these treatments be identified. It is important that vendors test Reclaimed Wood to identify treatments and dispose of them appropriately. As with all products, ask your vendors how they handle their supply chain.  

    Using Reclaimed Wood earns you Green Building Certification points, though the benefits are much deeper than just that. Check out these projects featuring Reclaimed Wood: Naked Stables Tree Top Vilas, Naked Stables Clubhouse, URBN Hotel, Arc8x LEED Platinum Office, The Riverhouse RESET Accredited Project 

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