From Forest to Floor: A Truly Sustainable Choice

Michael Dittmer, owner of Michael Dittmer Hardwood Flooring also owns two FSC-certified tree farms.

As an industry, we are lucky. Wood floors are truly the most environmentally friendly flooring option available. Responsible forestry practices ensure that we will never run out of raw material. Trees can be regrown time and time again to replace those that have been harvested. And while it is true that it takes hardwood trees 40 to 60 years to mature depending on the species, the raw materials needed to replace wood floors won’t be needed for 100-plus years. This is because wood floors can last more than 100 years when they are properly maintained.

Wood is also valuable as a building material. Pound for pound, it is stronger than steel, it costs less to manufacture than other building materials, and it uses less energy in the manufacturing process than other building materials. Wood also has 10 times more insulating capacity than steel or aluminum, and five times more insulating capacity than concrete or cinder blocks. It is also an extremely efficient insulating material.

To completely understand the environmental friendliness of wood as a flooring material, it is important to also understand the various stages in the life cycle of wood floors.

Sustainable Growth
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service reports that, in the United States, the average annual net growth of hardwood trees is greater than the average annual removals. They further report that the growth to removal ratio is about 2:1. This means that for every tree harvested in the United States, another two are regrown in its place. As a result, standing U.S. hardwood volume now totals 738 million acres.

Approximately one-third of all the available land in the United States is forestland. Today, there is more standing timber than there was at any time during the past 50 years, and less than half of the new growth is harvested each year. To further support the sustainability of wood, there are numerous certified forest programs available that promote responsible forest management and long-term sustainability initiatives.

There are three main forest certification programs in the United States. These include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Each of these programs promotes responsible forest management, and each of them also requires a long-term harvest plan designed to preserve and renew resources.

It is important to note that, unlike forests in Europe and other areas of the world, most forests in the United States are privately owned. Most are only a few hundred acres in size, and most are harvested only once a generation. As a result, many privately owned forests in the U.S. are not certified by one of these programs because the process of becoming a certified forest can be both time-consuming and expensive. Fortunately, most private forest owners manage their forests responsibly anyway. Not doing so would deplete the trees they rely on to produce income.

Michael Dittmer, owner of Michael Dittmer Hardwood Flooring, owns two small-acreage FSC-certified tree farms. Dittmer has worked in the hardwood flooring installation business most of his life and relocated to Putnam, Illinois, from the suburbs of Chicago when looking to make a lifestyle change for his family. What started as a quest to enjoy the more simple things in life grew into a business nourished by his passion for ecology and desire to more effectively use the land.

“We started to think about how we could add value to the property, and how we could make it better for the environment. The decision…let’s start planting some trees,” says Dittmer. “When we bought the property, it was logged off 30 years ago and not in the best of shape. Even though it was just marginal farm ground for planting trees, we replanted about 21 acres. We’re seeking to improve the overall quality of the property through our management plan.”

He continued, “Our plan is designed to address two concerns. One is trees, and the other is wildlife. We also look at the overall ecological improvement of the property as well, which is a long-term strategy. At our first farm, we started with 55 acres and grew it gradually by acquiring adjoining properties. With that additional acreage, we had to change our management plan. On top of that, since our original management plan was implemented 20 years ago, we had different invasive species, so our plan had to change to address these
new invasive species.”

Ecology has always been close to Dittmer’s heart. “I feel like I’m giving back to society,” he shared. “While there are some financial benefits to it, really my focus is giving back. I’m leaving things better than where I found them. And that’s why I do it, for my children and the next generation.”

Sustainable Manufacturing
Another favorable influence on natural resources is that the manufacturing of wood floors produces very little waste. Any waste products from the manufacturing of wood floors, which can include materials like bark, wood chips, wood shavings, and sawdust, are typically saved and used in the manufacturing facility. These waste products can be used to fuel boilers, to heat the facility, or for other purposes. The goal is to use 100 percent of the material from harvested trees.

Some manufacturing facilities use their waste material to produce wood bricks and wood pellets. These materials are sold and utilized as a highly efficient heating source. They are extremely popular in Europe and are gaining popularity in the United States as an eco-friendly heating material.

Wear layer manufacturer Danzer has found a way to take sustainability a step further.
Danzer has been processing hardwood in North America for more than 50 years. The group recently invested in new proprietary technology to reduce waste while vertically slicing high-quality veneers at much higher thicknesses than possible in the past.

In the past, the wear layers for engineered flooring were produced in a sawing process. Due to the relation between the thickness of the wear layer and the thickness of the saw blade, 35-50 percent of the tree was turned into sawdust. Danzer’s proprietary VS4000 slicers are capable of creating the product with a slicing process, eliminating the sawdust. This has saved thousands of truckloads of valuable hardwood trees, and the entire log is sliced into potentially usable material.

“Danzer is committed to sustainability within our operations,” says Tracy Rowlett, Product Manager/Flooring & Logs, NA. “This technology not only saves valuable resources, it also allows us to efficiently produce longer and wider boards than those made from sawing lumber. Typical vertical slicers can only slice up to a thickness of 2mm before quality deteriorates. Danzer’s VS4000 can slice up to 4mm with excellent quality.”

Danzer is also utilizing CT Scanning Technology for improved resource utilization. They are the first company to offer hardwood logs for sale with scanned internal images of individual logs. This way, customers can now look inside a log before manufacturing or even purchasing. The combination of external photos and internal images offers a unique perspective on individual logs, eliminates the need to travel, and preserves the familiarity of traditional buying methods.

“Danzer is the only hardwood company that offers CT-scanned logs to assist log buyers with the procurement of raw material. We make the critical task of buying hardwood logs from North America significantly easier, lowering procurement risk by offering new levels of transparency derived from technology and innovation,” says Rowlett.

The additional information provided helps assure consistency and quality in the products. Each log is individually selected based on the customer’s specification and optimized to maximize the customers desired product and overall yield. This results in lower unit cost and less need for working capital.

For the Life of the Home
Trees are a carbon neutral material. They take in carbon dioxide during their growth cycle and produce oxygen. One of the amazing facts about wood, however, is not very well-known: wood stores carbon during its service life. This means that any manufactured wood product – furniture, cabinets, wood floors, and even picture frames – continue to store carbon as a manufactured end-product.

Wood and products made from wood are considered to be carbon neutral. That’s because the carbon dioxide emitted during the combustion of wood is offset by the carbon dioxide taken in during a tree’s growth cycle. These two processes complement one another and make wood a carbon neutral material.

Wood also has very little impact on the accumulation of landfill waste. That’s because there are a number of environmentally friendly options for disposing of wood floors at the end of their service life. Wood floors can be recycled into other materials. Wood is combustible, which means it can be used as fuel or as a heating source. Finally, if the wood does end up in the landfill, it is biodegradable, which means it will decompose. This ultimately reduces its volume of landfill waste.

There are other options for recycling wood flooring as well. It can be used as reclaimed flooring, repurposed as furniture, utilized in pressed wood products, manufactured into wood bricks or wood pellets, and even manufactured into mulch.

One of the best ways to reduce landfill waste with wood is to utilize it for reclaimed flooring. This is a process where old wood is used to make new wood flooring. Reclaimed wood can come from a variety of sources. These include wood salvaged from old buildings, like abandoned barns or factories; logs recovered from river and lake bottoms from the turn-of-the-century logging era; or even old pallets.

When properly maintained, wood floors can last for hundreds of years. Solid wood floors can be sanded and refinished numerous times during their service lives, and can even be stained to give them a completely new look. Decorative items like medallions and borders can easily be added to existing wood floors to provide an updated look as well. Best of all, over time, wood floors can adapt to any décor and style changes without having to be replaced.

To really bring home the point about the value of wood floors, consider this: a survey of real estate agents concluded that homes with wood floors sell faster and for more money than homes without wood floors. The survey further concluded that the increase could be as much as 10 percent more, which is a significant increase in overall home value.

The environmental message for wood is a positive one that we need to share with our customers. At the same time, we have a responsibility as an industry to the materials that provide for our way of life. It is imperative that we work together to ensure our work practices are aligned with these facts, and that we share a simple message at every opportunity: wood is good.

Stacy Brown is the Editor/Publisher of Hardwood Floors Magazine, the official magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association. She can be reached at stacy.brown@nwfa.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *