Are you in the market for some reclaimed lumber? Reusing and repurposing old wood is a wonderful way to add history, style and character to a kitchen remodel. It's also eco-friendly....some of the time.
And, therein lies the dilemma. If sustainability is a priority for your kitchen design, be very thoughtful about how you use reclaimed wood. Using it for your cabinets might not be as eco-friendly as you think it is.
Quick Tip: Read, How to Design an Eco-Friendly Kitchen, for an overall guide on remodeling a kitchen with respect to the environment.
Refaced Cabinets Are More Sustainable Than Reclaimed Versions
If you are interested in a green kitchen design, we recommend refacing your cabinets and saving reclaimed lumber for things like flooring, open shelving or other accents that you plan to change out or add-on regardless.
1. They add copious amounts of scraps to landfills
Using reclaimed lumber for cabinetry sounds like a great idea in theory, but what do you think happens to existing cabinetry? In almost all cases, it's impossible to preserve torn out cabinets and reuse them, so they wind up going into the landfill. This is a shame.
When cabinets are refaced, we use a significant portion of existing structural cabinet components, so only the doors and a little trim work have to be discarded in most cases.
2. They consume extra fossil fuel via shipping
Shipping utilizes fossil fuels. That's one of the reasons why green kitchen designers advocate using local manufacturers, fabricators and suppliers whenever possible. Since reclaimed lumber isn't a mainstream commodity, there are very few cabinet makers who offer it as a solution.
Those who do are less likely to be found in your immediate area, which means the entirety of the cabinets must be shipped to your home. If you're here in the Pennsylvania area, your refaced cabinetry can be designed, made and installed with very little shipping (or extra fossil fuels) required.
3. They're often finished with toxic chemicals
Do you know where that re-claimed wood has been? Or, more accurately, do you know what's on it? Reclaimed would is re-purposed from a range of sources. Some of it is dredged up from the bottom of the great lakes, where it's languished for a century or more (read, Jurassic Bark...., to learn more on that fascinating subject).
The large majority of reclaimed lumber, however, comes from timber rescued from old barns, decks, warehouses and factories. Of course, the same weathered look that makes it attractive also makes it uneven so the wood must be reshaped as needed and then refinished.
Unless you know your source, or you purchase it from a reputable company, odds are it is finished with stains and/or lacquers that are not environmentally friendly. This is harmful during the production phase, and it's equally harmful once they're installed in your home - off-gassing toxins that compromise your indoor air quality.
When you reface your cabinets, we have the ability to select eco-friendly finishes that are low- to zero-VOC, doing our best to keep harmful toxic production to a minimum.
Reclaimed lumber doesn't come cheap
Unlike clothing and most furnishings, used wood doesn't come as cheap as you'd think. As we referenced above, it's often warped or so weather damaged that it has to be re-worked, re-shaped and re-finished in a way that preserves its natural beauty - but such that it can also be used to create straight edges and corners.
Unless you have access to free, workable wood (in which case it still has to be processed, shaped and finished), odds are your custom cabinetry using reclaimed lumber will be significantly more expensive than refaced cabinetry.
We love reclaimed wood, and do suggest using it to add beautiful, historical texture and style to your kitchen design. However, we'd recommend refacing the cabinets and finding more sensible installation options for reclaimed wood details.