Vintage quake timber heads north to Auckland

By Amanda Cropp

Southern Demolition staff inspect timber at  the site of the Lane Walker Rudkin Factory in Christchurch. Tonnes of vintage native timber recovered from Christchurch buildings is heading to Auckland for sale. Photo / Amanda Cropp
Southern Demolition staff inspect timber at the site of the Lane Walker Rudkin Factory in Christchurch. Tonnes of vintage native timber recovered from Christchurch buildings is heading to Auckland for sale. Photo / Amanda Cropp

Christchurch's loss has been Auckland's gain as demolition companies ship north thousands of metres of native timber salvaged from quake-damaged buildings.

CEO of Southern Demolition and Salvage, Alan Edge, says the amount of recycled rimu, matai and kauri his company sends to Auckland has risen about 20 per cent since the quakes.

Some timber may be stock piled to avoid flooding the market, but he believes the temporary "glut" will only last about six months and will not have much effect on prices because native timber is a finite resource.

"You'll get some charlatans that try to sell it at a higher rate than it's worth at the moment, and you'll probably get some people who will discount it to get some money back."

Demolition companies say recycled rimu fetches between $2500 and $3500 per cubic metre, depending on quality.

Christchurch buildings, particularly factories and warehouses, are yielding timber beams dating back to the 1800s which are machined into flooring, tongue and groove, and veneer, or find a ready market with furniture makers.

John Stil, director of Auckland-based Nikau Contractors Ltd , says the large beams he recovered from buildings in Lichfield Street are simply not available in Auckland. "Twenty years ago you'd have got a bit of it, but not now."

Nikau, which been active in Christchurch since the February quake, has sent four truckloads of timber to Auckland, and Stil says while transport costs of $3500 per load are significant, he'd have gladly shipped more timber north.

"It could have been more than 10 (truckloads) if we'd been able to salvage properly."

Stil estimates about 80 per cent of salvageable timber has gone to landfill because engineers deemed some buildings too dangerous to enter. "It's a terrible waste, but it's beyond our control."

"Dowsons Shoes where we got the really big timber out, it was an unreinforced brick building so they wouldn't allow anyone inside, but we machine salvaged it. We took walls out with a machine, dropped (floors) to the ground, then pulled the timber out. You lose a lot more timber, so instead of getting 90 per cent out, you only get 50 per cent."

Marketing salvaged timber in Auckland also benefits Christchurch building owners, because the value of the timber helps offset demolition costs.

Stil says good quality re-finished rimu sells for $3500 a cubic metre, and with up to 100 cubic metres in some buildings, salvaging it is well worth while.

"There's the cost to get it out of course, plus the cost to store it, transport it and de-nail it, but you can still credit quite a lot back to the building owners."

Edge says salvaging native timber and other useable material can halve the cost of demolition and although some building owners may retain some timber for their own use "they don't want it all, they're just not into that hassle."

Southern Demolition supplies the provenance of timber to buyers and that can be a selling point. Edge says his company is currently demolishing the Lane Walker Rudkin factory in Christchurch and buyers include former employees keen to purchase timber from their old work place. "We have one client who is building a new house and he wants 2500 linear metres of it for flooring."

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