September 28, 2010
SAVING WEATHERED WOOD
In one primary school in Setapak in Kuala Lumpur, rubber soles graze the wooden floor as students troop into the lecture hall. Little do the kids know that they are trodding on flooring that once belonged to the main exhibit area of the National Art Gallery in Jalan Tun Razak, KL.
When the building was undergoing refurbishment three years ago, the flooring of kempas wood was changed and, through a wood supply networking system, the wood panels ended up with timber entrepreneur Albert Low.
Coincidentally, a contractor was then sourcing for cheap flooring material for the school. Low matched the two and voila, the school got a high quality and almost new timber floor-the flooring was only two years old when removed-for its 270sqm hall.
And it came practically free since Low decided to be philanthropic. And so old wood, which would otherwise have been wantonly discarded, was given a new use. As concern over forest destruction mounts, people are increasingly looking for old wood that can be recycled. Reclaimed wood is touted as environment-friendly because it not only prevents the burning of wood waste, something that is widely practiced, but also saves the rainforest from the chainsaw. Low’s company, Maltimber Industries, deals in sustainably produced timber; one of the products he offer is old timber. He sources for the material from any building that is being taken down, but mainly from old warehouses as the quantity would be large, sometimes around 50 tonnes, and the wood is superior.
“Those days, warehouses were big and used mainly hardwoods such as cengal and balau as these were readily available and cheap. These timber can still be used for many year so long as they have not been badly weathered through exposure to rain and sun.”
Cengal and balau are his wood of choice as both are hardy, durable and not chemically treated since they can naturally ward off termite attacks.
Low has been in the timber industry for over 20 years but only started dealing in old wood about five years ago when demand grew. “It all started by coincidence. Contractors were offering these old wood at lower prices and, as I have a sawmill, I could cut them to size for resale. Since there is business to be made, I went into it. Now, there are environmental reasons for doing it. It’s good as there is no wastage of wood. Besides, hardwoods like cengal and balau are difficult to get now and are also expensive.”
Environmental motive aside, another reason to purchase old wood is its price, which Low says is generally 30% lower than new wood. The quality, length and thickness of the wood dictate its pricing. While new cengal lumber measuring 150mm by 150mm and 6m long sells for RM12000 a tone, similar-sized old wood goes for about RM6000 to RM7000.
“But the prices is catching up. It used to be half the price of new wood. Warehouse owners are selling it more expensively as they know there is demand. It used to be that they’ll pay people to take away the wood or even give it away free,” says Low.
Hey buys old wood from all over the country, through a network of middlemen. “when ever an old building is being taken down, they will contact me. I’ll send my workers to check it out. They’ll e-mail me photographs to indicate the quantity and quality of the wood, then I’ll decide whether to investigate further.”
Since old buildings get demolished all the time with redevelopment, Low is never short of supplies. But he refuses to divulge more about his sources of aged wood, stating that the material is hot property in the increasingly competitive business. He does retrieve timber from old residential homes, but rarely, since these yield only small amounts, plus the wood is usually small-sized.
As a wholesaler, he deals with contractor and sometimes, architects, rather than houseowners. The old wood is usually cut to fit the required needs. Right now, he is expecting a shipment from an old warehouse in Penang. He has a ready buyer for it-a contractor who is sourcing the wood for a resort.
For safety reasons, he says reclaimed wood should not be used for structural purposes such as in roof trusses as its strength might have declined with age. Such wood is more suitably repurposed into gazebos, flooring, fencing, furniture, wall paneling, siding and wooden decorative items.
Some say that aged wood has an unmatched rustic beauty and built-in history, and Low attests to that. “The colour of cengal shines more, the longer you keep it,” he says.
Local demand for old wood is currently huge, according to Low, with buyers coming mainly from Kuala Lumpur and Penang. So, he sells it all locally and need not export. Though the trend augurs well for his business, he sees his green endeavour as “just my small contribution to the environment.”
Tahukah Anda ?
Kebanyakan mentol lampu, samada jenis pijar (incandent), berpendaflour (fluorescent) ataupun berpendaflour kompak mempunyai sedikit cecair merkuri dan bahan kimia berbahaya lain yang boleh mencemarkan tanah dan air bawah tanah.