Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week 74: Part III - Is wood a green material?

Old teak wood beams found with a Mumbai vendor
While using wood, an important question for us was to determine whether we would consider wood to be a sustainable material or not. Wood is a naturally occurring renewable material and hence can be considered sustainable. The issue is the over-logging of forests worldwide leading to loss of critical forest cover and all the resulting problems of loss of habitat, environmental disastors and climate change. This problem can be somewhat overcome by buying wood that is certified to come from forest following sustainable forest management practices. When we began our search for wood, we did our research and found that there was only one certified plantation in India that sold only rubber wood. Most other certified wood is actually imported to India. This results in spending large amounts of energy in transporting the wood across continents to finally arrive in India.

The solution we arrived at was to use reclaimed wood, that is to reuse wood reclaimed from old buildings, bridges or railway sleepers in our building. For this purpose, we conducted several trips to Delhi and Mumbai and identified a vendor who promised us a stock of old Burma Teak wood that had been used in buildings during the British times. The deal was struck, advance payment made but then it turned out (which happens often) the vendor had over-promised and would under-deliver…. Stuck at the last minute, we were forced to make a decision while keeping cost, time and quality all in check. The decision we made was to use virgin Burma and African teak wood in the project.

Luckily, we were able to source some old teak and matti (local variety) wood from Goa itself. We bought wood that was used in old homes as roof rafters and floor beams. The advantage of using old wood is that it has completely dry or seasoned, has achieved its equilibrium moisture content and therefore presents no danger of bending or warping. And once you shave off the top weathered layer, the wood looks and behaves as good as new.

Stack of old reclaimed wood brought to the site
Carpenter working with old wood to remove nails or any sections that are spoilt
Carpenter working with old wood to remove nails or any sections that are spoilt
Cutting the old wood to remove the outer weathered layer and to make usable sections
Cut old wood, look as good as new !
The challenge of using old reclaimed wood apart from sourcing it is actually working with it. The wood from roof rafters often has nails some of which have lost their heads, and therefore it is difficult to predict where there is a nail within the wood section. This creates a problem while cutting the wood, as an unexpected nail can break the blade of the saw, leading to additional cost and time lost in replacement.

In addition, a lot of time is spent is preparing the wood, in sorting it based on size and variety, cutting and disposing any sections that are damaged and also carefully examining the wood to remove any nails or other intrusions. This takes time and labor cost. Also, as one would expect carpenters would much rather buy new wood and straight away begin work rather then spend time in preparing the wood before crafting it.

In any case, we went through all the motions of figuring out the process and executing it. The result is some beautiful wood that we are reusing and saving a few trees. Also important to note is that in the end, the cost of using old wood come to be more or less the same as new wood due to the additional cost in working with it and high wastage but ofcourse there are significant environmental savings that are difficult to quantify.

Back to Part I - Romancing Wood, an introduction to our choice for using wood, and
Part II - Seasoning and treating wood

Read more about us and our team.

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