A new life for old trees

Reclaimed timbers used as backbone in Burgess Creek home

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— The huge pieces of Douglas fir once were the skeleton of an almost century-old railroad station in rural Oregon. Now, the giant timbers are visible as the structural backbone of a house being built on a small parcel near the end of Burgess Creek Road.

Much of the timbers will remain visible in the new post-and-beam home designed by architects Joe Patrick Robbins and Ian Wagner and engineer Dave Connelly of Steamboat Engineering. They designed the home with input from property owners Malcolm and Dana McAvity of Greenwich, Conn.

Using reclaimed timber is part of a growing trend in home construction -- one Malcom McAvity credits the designers, engineers and builder Gary Cogswell of Cogswell Construction for bringing to his new home. Cogswell and Robbins have collaborated on about a dozen projects in the past 15 years, including several using reclaimed timbers.

"We've been coming to Steamboat for the past eight or nine years and purchased the property some time ago," McAvity said. "The idea to use reclaimed timbers was sort of more their idea than mine."

The timbers were purchased through Montana-based Bear Creek Timberwrights Inc., which cut the wood to the specific desired lengths and notched them according to Robbins' and Connelly's design, said Jason Daughtry of Bear Creek Timberwrights.

Daughtry said he had to work closely with Robbins and Connelly to ensure the complicated joints would fit and lock together for this intricately designed house. After the pieces were cut, cleaned and planed to bring out the wood's natural beauty, crewmembers from Bear Creek Timberwrights took the fittings and trusses out into the lumberyard to make sure the pieces fit correctly.

"We like to try to do that as much as we can," Daughtry said. "We'll take a huge portion of our pieces into the yard, build a wall on the ground, pull everything tight and then disassemble it and catalog it, so that they can be reassembled on site with ease."

Bear Creek Timberwrights, which claims to build "exceptional frames and trusses," buys timbers from all across the United States, often from one Oregon supplier which finds old wood-built factories, warehouses and even mine shafts, Daughtry said.

"It's a diminishing commodity," Daughtry said. "(Contractors) are building with steel and concrete now and big timbers are mostly just in these old buildings. That's the reason cost for these timbers keeps going up."

Daughtry said since Bear Creek Timberwrights bought the wood for the McAvitys' home in October, the average price for reclaimed timber has gone up about 20 percent. Before timbers began being reclaimed, they were mostly just thrown away, Cogswell said.

"Somebody woke up one day when they were hauling it away and burning it, and said, 'here is some great wood that is aged, become more beautiful, and hardened if anything,'" Cogswell said.

Part of what makes using reclaimed timbers desirable, besides its aesthetic appeal, is that the buyers often feel good about recycling the wood as opposed to using freshly cut and manufactured wood, Cogswell said. Robbins and Malcolm McAvity agreed.

"We have learned to appreciate the beauty of the old growth, reclaimed timber," Robbins said. "Not only are we saving new trees, but there is satisfaction in seeing these old trees with their tight grain. Cleaning and reusing them is very satisfying, because they have so much character they gained over the years.

"We encourage our clients whenever we can to use it. It's expensive, but on the other hand, if a homebuyer appreciates the quality of the reclaimed wood, I think the extra cost is repaid over the years. The energy of the old wood and wonderful craftsmanship is going to come back for everyone who gets to go into the building. I'm a real believer in this type of work."

The McAvitys' house will be just more than 7,000 square feet in two stories, with five bedrooms and six and a half bathrooms.

"This house uses a combination of Old World workmanship, like chiseled joints, with modern computer design to avoid miscalculations," Cogswell said.

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