The Amazing Value of Old-Growth Wood

As you know, the latest Stuga Properties’ project is the renovation of 466 Aster – a 1923 Craftsman home. One of the factors that attract us to these historic cottages is the presence of old-growth wood throughout the house.Interior view of open walls 1

What is old-growth wood – and why does it matter?

The term “old-growth” refers to wood harvested from tees that grew up over hundreds of years. It is extremely dense, which makes it structurally strong, stable, and resistant to insects, disease, and decay. It’s also not something you can find at the local lumber yard. A search on line reveals that most of what you’ll find today has been reclaimed.

As a rule, you’ll only find old-growth wood in homes constructed prior to the 1940’s.

The bulk of lumber used in construction today has been harvested from trees cultivated to grow rapidly, so the wood is less dense – making it weaker and more susceptible to decay, disease, and instability.

The reason – trees that grew up slowly over hundreds of years have approximately 10 times the number of growth rings per inch as do trees that have been forced into rapid growth. Each of those rings is another layer of strength and stability.Interior view of open walls 1B

The stability factor in lumber refers to how much it expands and contracts due to weather conditions such as heat and moisture. The stability of old-growth wood means there’s less movement, so paint jobs last longer and fewer gaps appear during the cold and dry months.

If you have a newer home and need to repaint your wood trim every year, or if your doors fail to shut properly at different times of the year, blame it on the instability of that “fast growth” wood.

In the 1950’s many homeowners decided to modernize by covering their wood siding with aluminum – a situation that has delighted more than one renovation contractor. Often, when removing that old, battered aluminum siding, they find old-growth wood that can easily be repaired and repainted – and expected to last at least another 100 years.

The tragedy of replacement windows… Interior view of open walls 1C

Unfortunately, far too many homeowners have responded to window replacement ads promising unbelievable energy savings. As a result, they’ve torn out beautiful, repairable old growth wood window sashes in favor of new wood or vinyl frames. Earlier, many were talked into aluminum frames – which turned out to be energy disasters. Renovation contractors have no choice but to replace them, since most replacement windows aren’t built to last – despite the “lifetime guarantee.”

Meanwhile, a 100-year-old wood sash can easily be restored to last another 100 years – and to do so with beauty and class. Even when the outside appears at first glance to be in poor shape, that sash can be sanded down to reveal strong, healthy wood, ready for a new finish.

With new caulking, weather stripping, and installation of storm windows, the energy savings will be as good or better than that of new windows. The overall dollar savings will be even greater.

Builders estimate the average cost of replacing an entire home’s worth of windows at approximately $12,000. The energy savings could be as much as $50 per month. Even if you use heat or air conditioning all year round, that’s only $600 per year – so it would take 20 years to recoup the costs, assuming you paid cash with no interest charges to consider. Meanwhile, most replacement windows don’t hold up over time – they must be replaced again after about 20 years.

Repairs and maintenance can also take a bite. Your old wood sashes were constructed one piece at a time, whereas new windows are installed “of a piece.” Damage to any part of the frame or the window means replacing the whole thing. (Do read the fine print before believing that “lifetime guarantee.”)

New windows aren’t the “Green” solution they’re purported to be…

The energy required to build those new windows is significant. Think of the energy it takes to extract the raw materials, transport them to a factory, make them into a new product, and ship them to market. By comparison, the energy required to repair an existing wood-sash window is minimal.

Add that to the fact that a properly maintained old window with a storm window added is just as energy efficient, and it makes much more sense to repair and restore your old-growth wood window sashes.

If you’re considering purchasing an historic home for renovation – do consider the value of keeping and restoring that old growth wood – in the siding and trim, in the window sashes, in the floors, and in the interior woodwork.

You’ll not only save money, your home will have more authenticity and charm, and it will require far less maintenance in the future.