During my 30 years of remodeling and building new homes. I have ran across quite a bit of structural framing failures. I find myself answering this question a lot when explaining to a homeowner about the structural failure I am repairing on their home, "Why Didn't They Use Better Lumber" or " Why Didn't They Use Larger Lumber." I really have a hard time answering these questions because I honestly don't know the answer.
However I can try to use some logic and reason to give these people an answer that seems to make sense to both of us. Why didn't they use better lumber, quite simply because, with most older homes that were built before the 1970s they actually do have better lumber. Now you're probably thinking how can these homes have better lumber when the lumber is old versus the new lumber used in a brand new house.
Most of the structural repairs I have made over the years has nothing to do with the lumber and whether it was new or old. A large number of these repairs were caused by neglect and poor maintenance.
The lumber in most older houses are from older growth trees. Some of these trees were extremely large and only the premium parts of the trees were used. The premium lumber is cut farthest away from the center of the tree. Now the larger the tree it makes sense that there will be more premium lumber.
A large majority of the newer lumber used in home construction comes from trees about 6 inches in diameter. Now you're probably wondering how can they cut a 2 x 8 piece of lumber out of a 6 inch tree. Of course they cannot, the larger lumber comes from larger trees.
Most 2 x 4's that are less than 8 foot long can be cut from these trees. This scrap or waste that comes from cutting these two by fours will now go into engineered building materials like particleboard, oriented strand board and engineered beams. Another name for an engineered been would be a paralam.
I hope you're starting to get the picture now when it comes to using new or old lumber. There are companies that are going into old logging rivers and retrieving old growth lumber. These were logs that sank to the bottom of the river's and were never retrieved because it was too costly.
The old growth lumber is quite expensive. Who's to say what problems we will happen in the future from the newer products created with modern day technology. When it comes to building houses it is not an exact science and as contractors we have been repairing the damage from poor engineering for years.
When I use the word poor engineering I am not pointing fingers at engineers. We now have more knowledge about home construction then we had years ago.
New versus old lumber, who wins the battle. Only time will tell.
Greg Vanden Berge is working on the internet to promote the education for creating simple to follow guides and home building books to help professional building contractors as well as the weekend warriors. He is currently working on more building and Remodeling Library and adding useful content to help solve problems created by the lack of construction knowledge in the building industry.
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