Moving Forward by Looking Back

Photos courtesy of Sprigg Lynn.

What is old can be new again, especially when it comes to hardwood flooring. When a historic home or building is slated for demolition, Universal Floors in Washington, D.C., will often remove the wood flooring, keeping it out of landfills. The antique floors then are sorted, cleaned, and bundled for the company’s next repair or historic restoration project.

“We came up with our ‘Choose to Reuse’ program out of necessity. In Washington, D.C., there are homes built as far back as the 1700s,” explains Sprigg Lynn of Universal Floors. “We often need this older wood for repairs because you cannot fake the tightness of the grain or the hardness of the wood. You can try to emulate it with newer wood, but it never works out perfectly.”

When Universal Floors needs to match wood, or replicate a parquet or a herringbone, Lynn says his team can go into their collection, locate the exact wood they need, and cut it as required. 

“The grain and color will come out the same, and it makes our job a lot easier,” explains Lynn.

Lynn says that Universal Floors currently has one of the largest stockpiles of reclaimed wood in the Washington, D.C. area.  

“When homes are slated for demolition, we are asked to bid on putting in the eventual new floor, but at that time, there also exists an opportunity to get the old floor. Sometimes we can get the old floor for free. Other times, they will pay us to remove it,” says Lynn.

For Universal Floors, the Choose to Reuse program’s biggest challenge is how to prepare and store the reclaimed flooring.

“After we de-nail the flooring and take it back to the warehouse, we then sort it, clean it, remove any defects, then trim it, and package it by length,” explains Lynn. “It’s a reasonable amount of labor, but the result is that when we need wood, much of the hard part is done. This also is beneficial because, for many jobs, we have to be ready to go and do the work with very little notice.”

Lynn says he’s continuously amazed about the amount and kinds of wood he finds.  

“We salvage a lot of old-growth wood that they don’t make anymore. It can be like finding a diamond in the rough,” says Lynn. “We find a lot of rift and quartered oak. You also wouldn’t believe how much heart pine we discover, which we’ve found can be worth $20- to $25-a-square-foot.”

Having such a wide selection of wood provides Universal Floors with many unique installation opportunities.

“When doing a historic restoration, we can determine the age of the building and its installed floor, then we have the ability to go into our collection and use salvaged wood from that same year. By doing that, half of our battle is over as far as matching and making it look as if our repair never happened. We’ve done this kind of work at the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and State Department. You name it; we’ve done it.”

Lynn believes that having old wood stockpiled and ready to go often makes the difference in accomplishing such exact and time-sensitive projects.

“Knowing that we need to work quickly, we first rough sand the floor and determine what needs to be repaired or replaced,” explains Lynn. “We then work to remove sections of the floor with the wrong wood or sections of plywood patches. Finally, we can dive into our stockpile and rapidly find wood that is a flawless match.”

Lynn says the Choose to Reuse program is an excellent example of a win-win situation, as his clients like the speed and convenience, the idea of using reclaimed wood, and how well the reclaimed wood matches what they already have.

“Aesthetically, it matches perfectly. There’s also an appeal to the idea of having an antique. We’re saving the wood from being thrown into a landfill, and we can breathe new, fresh air into a beautiful, historic floor that can last another 100 years.” 

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