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Energy Solutions

Using Reclaimed Wood for Porch Decking

Tropical hardwood decking that we can feel good about — and that should last many decades

We chose to install Viridian decking on our front porch. Note the random colors from different species of tropical hardwood.
Image Credit: Alex Wilson
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We chose to install Viridian decking on our front porch. Note the random colors from different species of tropical hardwood.
Image Credit: Alex Wilson
As many as thirty 30-yard dumpsters of wood waste are generated from each ship bringing iron and steel from the Far East.
Image Credit: Viridian Wood Products
A dump truck unloads tropical hardwood shipping material at the Viridian warehouse. Workers sort and band wood for further processing into flooring and other products. Workers install decking on what will be our screen porch on the back of the house. A decking detail on our front porch. To install the densest of the Viridian Jakarta Market Blend decking, it's necessary to pre-drill with holes the full diameter of the screws.

We’re moving along with some of the wrap-up work on our house in Dummerston. One of those projects is installing the porch decking on both the front and rear porches and a handicapped ramp up from the garage to the back porch. (Yes, we plan to live there for a long time!)

For the decking, we used a product I found out about through my work researching green building products at BuildingGreen. It’s actually a product we recognized as a Top 10 Green Building Product last year.

The Viridian story

Viridian Wood Products produces tropical hardwood flooring, decking, paneling, and countertop material derived from salvaged wood sources, including tropical hardwoods. I have long been a firm believer that one should only use wood from tropical rainforests that comes from well-managed forests — as evidenced by certification based on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards — or that is salvaged from other uses and diverted from the waste stream.

Back in 2004, Joe Mitchoff and Pierce Henley of Portland, Oregon, noticed that a lot of wood used for shipping manufactured goods — especially heavy iron and steel — was being landfilled at the Port of Portland. As many as thirty 30-yard roll-off dumpsters per ship of mostly four-by-fours were going to the landfill, and they recognized that this was amazingly beautiful tropical hardwood.

Mitchoff and Henley made arrangements with the Port to divert that waste — saving the Port disposal costs — and they figured out how to process the wood cost-effectively, milling it into a high-end flooring and countertop material, while recycling the co-mingled waste.

The wood is first heat-treated to kill any invasive insects that may be living in it (shipping materials have been one of the main routes of entry for invasive insects getting into the United States), then scanned for metal fasteners, kiln-dried, and milled into standard dimensions for the various markets they serve.

With the high volume of production and a 40,000 square-foot warehouse next to the Port, Viridian Wood Products has been able to achieve a dependable supply, which is critically important for nationwide marketing of salvaged wood products. The company has even expanded into other reclaimed wood sources — such as Douglas fir salvaged from high school bleachers, Douglas fir from structures in the Pacific Northwest, a rustic oak salvaged from truck decks, and old-growth redwood salvaged from wine casks.

“Jakarta Market Blend”

Because Viridian’s tropical woods are reclaimed rather than being cut from forests, the species vary widely and typically aren’t even known. We ordered a mix of wood known as Jakarta Market Blend – Dark Sort that is comprised of probably at least a dozen actual species. Some are very dark, almost black; others are a deep red; some have beautiful figured grain. The weight also varies greatly, with some having specific gravity that is significantly greater than that of water — meaning that that wood doesn’t float.

The great density of these tropical hardwoods also results in tremendous hardness and wear properties. With flooring, hardness is typically measured using the Janca Scale. The Jakarta Market Blend – Dark Sort flooring we got has a hardness ranging from 1100 to 3500, which makes it suitable for high-traffic commercial applications. By comparison, eastern white pine has a hardness of 380, hemlock 500, Douglas fir 660, cherry 995, teak 1155, red oak 1290, and sugar maple 1450.

As we were selecting from the batch of wood received from Viridian, I chose the heavier pieces for the porch flooring — so I suspect most pieces have a hardness well over 2000. The dimensions of the decking are 2 1/2 inches x 5/8 inch, in random lengths up to 6 feet 6 inches.

FSC certification

All Viridian reclaimed wood is certified according to FSC standards. FSC has standards both for virgin wood (relating to forest management practices) and for salvaged wood.

All Viridian product carries chain-of-custody certification according to FSC’s 100% Post Consumer Reclaimed standard. The chain-of-custody certification number for Viridian Reclaimed Wood is SW-COC-001962.

Finishing

While the wood will gray over time, I wanted to treat it with an oil finish that would bring out and retain for at least a while the gorgeous colors in the wood, but I also wanted to use a natural finish that was environmentally responsible. I chose a product called Heritage Natural Finish. I found out about this oil finish at the Timber Framers Guild of North America annual meeting this summer, where I was giving a presentation on our house.

Heritage finish (which used to be called Land Ark Natural Wood Finish) is made from naturally processed linseed oil, tung oil, beeswax, pure citrus solvent, and pine rosin. Unlike some oil finishes, there are no heavy metal drying agents or petroleum products.

We used Heritage’s Exterior Finish, which include a UV inhibitor and a mildewcide to inhibit mold staining. (The Original Finish does not include the mildewcide.)

Installation

Don’t even think about installing Viridian Jakarta Market Blend flooring without pre-drilling. Eli Gould’s crew started out drilling as they might for standard decking — with slightly undersized holes, but they were breaking off the stainless steel decking screws right and left! This stuff is hard!

We installed ours on framing made of TimberSIL, a totally nontoxic pressure-treated lumber. With TimberSIL, sodium silicate is infused into the wood under pressure, and the wood his then heated in a kiln, which melts the sodium silicate into an amorphous glass. This glass surrounds the wood cells, protecting it from decay and insects and well as imparting fire-resistance.

Cost

Viridian is a premium product that sells for a premium price. Pricing is somewhat higher than that of redwood decking and significantly more expensive than pressure-treated (PT) decking. But it should hold up as well as Ipé, which is typically more expensive. The price of the Jakarta Market Blend is $6.95 per square foot, though shipping will add to the price. According to Joe Mitchoff, one of the advantages of having a constant supply of salvaged wood is the ability to keep pricing fairly constant.

The TimberSIL framing we used is also more expensive than standard PT framing, but we think it will last a lot longer, helping us (and our children and grandchildren) achieve the long life that we are seeking with the house.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

4 Comments

  1. Dan Kolbert | | #1

    Great product
    I too have "re-purposed" wood from those pallets/shipping containers, and it always sickens me to think of that lumber being harvested at all, never mind for a disposable purpose. It's great that someone is finding a permanent use for them.

  2. Gavin Farrell | | #2

    Nice
    Yeah, great story. Always inspiring to hear about somebody who recognized an opportunity to make a beautiful and useful product out of something that would otherwise be thrown out. I imagine most ports are creating waste of this nature that could be salvaged.

  3. Eric Peterson | | #3

    Hope the TimberSIL Works out
    I was very interested in your description of TimberSIL, I'd love to stop using PT for a lot a reasons. I started doing some research and found evidence of a lot of problems over the 10 years or so that the product has been around. Check out this article:

    http://www.gazettenet.com/news/7882121-95/special-report-summit-house-projects-woes-linked-to-wood-choice

    I want to believe the stuff works, and would be willing to support a product as it goes through some fits and starts, but a little time on Google demonstrates that, at the least, there have been running problems with maintaining consistent quality and good customer service.

    Keep us informed about how it works out.

  4. User avater
    Alex Wilson | | #4

    TimberSIL
    Eric,
    My understanding is that the mineralized surface of TimberSIL will not accept standard paints easily. That's why the company recommended mineral silicate paints (such as Keim), but from the article you sent it sounds like Keim would not warranty its paint because there hasn't been testing. It's too bad TimberSIL hasn't done a good job with testing and communication.

    We used TimberSIL on our home (joists under the deck and as sill plates) where painting was not a requirement. I'll be anxious to see how it performs. I remain optimistic that it will prove to be a viable, environmentally attractive alternative to standard pressure-treated wood.

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