The word “used” has a bad connotation. No one wants used clothes or used shoes. Is it any wonder that automobile manufacturers have gotten hip to this and now use the term “pre-owned vehicles” instead of “used cars”?

The building industry, fortunately, does not have those hang-ups. In fact, one used building product is perhaps the best of its class—salvaged lumber.

NOBLE SALVAGE Salvaged wood, which includes logs pulled from the bottom of lake beds, timber framing from an old barn, or wood from factories, warehouses, bridges, railroad tracks, pier pilings, and other vintage structures, is a highly prized commodity. People value it because the quality is superb.

Much of the salvaged wood available today came from slow-growth trees that may have been almost 1,000 years old, so the boards are hard and durable with tight grains. “Salvaged wood is very stable,” says Don Baldwin, owner of Pacific Heritage Wood Supply Co. in El Granada, Calif. “It's been used before so it won't flex, twist, or crown.”

For example, says Matt Mladenka, sales and marketing director of Dallas-based East Teak, “Teak today is cut early so you get a lot of sappy stock.” Old-growth teak was air dried so the wood is darker and you can still smell the oil. “It is a much better product,” he continues.

For some, the romantic history of the lumber is a major attraction—the fact that the wood came from wine or cider barrels or from an old factory or school. Stories abound about river-recovered logs that sank during the Civil War or trees that were cut for the king and queen of England in the early 1800s.

For other fans, the green story is the key. The category has become popular with environmentally conscious builders, architects, and consumers who see it as a way to preserve natural resources. East Teak, for example, started life as a supplier of virgin teak to the boat building industry almost 35 years ago. Now it offers eco-friendly, recycled, and reclaimed teak lumber. “We are starting to go more in this direction,” Mladenka says.

OPEN MARKET Fifteen years ago, only a few companies offered salvaged product; now there are many. East Teak sells prime-grade teak and rosewood recovered from old and neglected structures throughout Southeast Asia and India. Goodwin Heart Pine, in Micanopy, Fla., specializes in river-recovered heart pine and heart cypress, and salvaged legacy heart pine.

Susquehanna, Pa.–based Conklin's Barnwood offers siding, flooring, and hand-hewn beams that were pulled from old barns along the Mid-Atlantic. Species include hemlock, antique chestnut, oak, and white pine, but other types are available.

Mountain Lumber Co. in Ruckersville, Va., offers all types of salvaged products, from heart pine to Chinese elm. John Williams, vice president of sales, says the company is starting to offer engineered flooring made from salvaged wood. “The substrate is seven-ply birch plywood, and the top wear layer is salvaged species,” he says.

Of course, salvaged lumber is not cheap. Prices vary from supplier to supplier and by what species are available and how much of it. Either way, you're going to pay dearly. Why is the product so pricey? “The amount of labor it takes to deconstruct the building, salvage the wood, and then process it makes it expensive,” Baldwin says. Moreover, Baldwin continues, it's hard to find sawmills that will process the wood. “Some logs have stones or nails embedded in the surface so it really breaks band saws and blades,” he says.

Still, most companies say business is booming thanks to the great interest in green building. “Traditionally, it has been used in high-end houses, but I am seeing it starting to go in houses other than high end,” says Williams, who says the engineered flooring is one way to keep the cost down and extend the supply of this precious product.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog,