MAPLE RIDGE, BC — JULY 15, 2012 — Bruce MacDonald of Western Reclaimed Timber discusses his company’s process of reclaiming quality construction materials in Maple Ridge on July 15, 2012.
Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost , PNG
There’s a lot of spilled beer and good memories on the back of a flat-deck truck at Western Reclaimed Timber’s property beside the Fraser River in Maple Ridge.
Stacked on the truck is about 2,000 board feet of laminated structural beams — known as “glulams,” layers of woods bonded together — removed during construction work at the Fraser Arms Hotel on South West Marine Drive in Vancouver.
“They’re excellent,” allows Western owner Bruce MacDonald, who’s been in the wood-recycling business for 25 years. “Nothing wrong with them at all.”
Crews remove nails from the beams and use metal detectors to probe for potentially dangerous metal bits not visible to the naked eye.
The beams will be visually graded according to knots and cracks, then milled into a variety of wood products that could include tongue-and-groove flooring, timber frames, table and counter tops, decking for boats, and wraps for steel beams.
The wood may be old — made from ancient Douglas felled around the 1950s — but in today’s wood-construction market, old has never seemed newer.
“The old look is in,” MacDonald confirms. “It’s highly sought after.”
The human history of the wood also adds value to the product.
Some of the more recognizable structures from which Western has reclaimed wood include the Woodward’s Building and Drake Hotel in Vancouver, and the historic Glenrose Cannery on the Fraser River in North Delta, which was dismantled due to construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road.
“People are often more interested in the story behind the wood than the wood itself,” MacDonald notes.
Wood reclaimed from demolition sites can be a valuable commodity if recycled.
If not, it becomes a liability for communities trying to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and incinerators.
As Metro Vancouver looks for ever-more-creative waste-management solutions — to achieve a target of increasing the diversion of material from landfills to 70 per cent by 2015 from 55 per cent today— construction waste is getting special scrutiny.
The region recycles about 250,000 tonnes of wood a year, 90 per cent of which goes into fuel pellets and the rest mostly into mulch, landscaping, and compost products. Another about 250,000 tonnes of wood is still being sent to landfills each year, largely from construction and demolition activities, but also from home renovations and sources such as industrial, institutional, and commercial businesses.
“Wood is a focus of our work right now,” confirmed Dennis Ranahan, deputy manager of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste division.
The region hopes to reduce the amount of disposed wood by about another 150,000 tonnes a year, most of that material that could be reused or recycled.
“When you demolish a house there is a huge amount of wood that just gets taken away as garbage,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro Vancouver’s zero waste committee. “Of course, it’s the clean wood you want to be recycling.”
Potential models include collecting wood waste when it arrives at existing regional garbage transfer stations and sending it for recycling, developing a model bylaw that municipalities can use to require recycling from demolition projects, or banning disposal of wood-waste a garbage.
Metro Vancouver is working with the Vancouver research centre of FPInnovations, a non-profit organization that does research for the Canadian forest industry, to investigate potential options. FPInnovations is sampling wood at a disposal site to determine the quantities, condition and species of wood being trashed. Recommendations are expected later this year.
In 2009, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment called for an expansion of industry-led recycling programs over an eight-year period to include construction and demolition materials, furniture, textiles and carpet, and appliances, including ozone-depleting substances.
Reclaimed wood must pass an engineering inspection before being reused in building construction — a step that does not apply when the wood is used strictly for decorative purposes.
Paul Fast is the managing partner with Fast and Epp, a Vancouver structural engineering firm that has worked on several projects that used recycled wood and steel for structural purposes. Among them were the City of Vancouver’s asphalt plant and materials handling facility, the Port Moody rowing, sailing and paddling centre, and the White Rock municipal operations building.
Aside from the stories they tell, quality beams made from old-growth timber are seasoned and stable, and won’t shrink or twist when reused in a building, Fast said.
They are generally fine as structural components, although with older laminated beams the allowable stress is reduced due to uncertainties over the quality of past laminating.
Anyone who wants to use recycled timber must make a commitment early in the design phase, he noted, through the procurement and storage of the wood for potentially one or two years until construction starts.
The consequences can be unexpected. Fast purchased 60 pieces of 60-foot 3×10 fir trusses from an old mill on Southeast Marine Drive in Vancouver and put them in storage to be potentially incorporated into future projects.
“After sitting on it for three or four years, I decided to sell it back to the people developing the East Fraserlands, ParkLane Homes … but it all got stolen. Probably someone chopped it up into five-foot pieces.”
The economic impediments to recycling wood don’t end there.
At Western Reclaimed Timber, MacDonald explains that modern buildings with two-by-fours lack the value and desirability of older buildings fashioned from old-growth timber.
Old-growth Douglas firs, he said, are denser and more attractive, featuring up to 32 annual growth rings an inch, compared with five to 12 rings for second growth.
MacDonald said customers are willing to pay a premium of 50 to 60 per cent for reclaimed wood, some of which comes in large sizes not easily found in today’s lumber yards.
On the flip side, the company can lose 40 per cent of the old wood cleaning it up during the milling process due to rot or because the client wants a fresh-cut look or a specific size that requires more of the wood to be cut off.
“We make a living, but not heaps of money,” said MacDonald, who employs a staff of four on 1.2 hectares leased from Canadian Pacific in Whonnock.
The customers for his wood products cut a wide swath. Cafes and bars like the industrial look of old boards, as do Okanagan wineries for their tasting rooms. One high-end hair salon in Vancouver bought large fir blocks on which to showcase its hair products.
Most of Western’s customers are in B.C., but he’s also sold to customers in Alberta, Ontario and the U.S., and even yellow cedar and Douglas fir to Japan.
MacDonald maintains close ties with demolition companies and the logging industry.
He’s salvaged fir boom sticks — logs positioned around the perimeter of booms to keep the logs in place — from the west coast of Vancouver Island for use as timber frames.
And he recently received $2,000 from a residential customer to mill a Douglas fir stump into a showcase harvest dinner table.
That the logging company from Hope that supplied the stump realized the modern value in a stump that would have been left in the bush just a few years ago shows just how far the wood industry has come.
“Were doing more with the products,” he confirms.
Always reading consumers’ changing demands for wood products, MacDonald has imported oak planks from a cotton mill and barns in Tennessee, and warehouse flooring made of eastern heart pine from New York.
“I’ve had to change with the trends,” he said.
Lesser wood is sold for firewood, including the bundles sold in provincial parks, or trucked to Chips Ahoy Fibre Supply Ltd. in Mission to be ground into a commercial landscape product similar to bark mulch but finer.
MacDonald figures two per cent of the total wood he receives winds up in the garbage. The company doesn’t handle treated products such as creosote pilings which cannot be recycled due to environmental concerns.