Infested ash trees get second life as home flooring

A company with roots in eastern Ontario is making the most of the region's emerald ash borer infestation by turning dead and condemned trees into floorboards.

Gaylord Hardwood Flooring, a family business based in Tweed, Ont., is increasingly using trees affected by the Asian beetles to make hardwood flooring at its mill in southwest Ontario.

Greg Gaylord says the company is buying up the wood, which he says makes excellent floorboards.

"Ash is great, it's really similar to oak, but quite a bit harder, so it's more durable," said Gaylord, who operates the company's Ottawa outlet.

The ash borer, first noticed in North America in 2002, feeds on the bark of ash trees and has killed millions of trees in Ontario and the United States.

The city of Ottawa has been waging a war against the invasive beetle since it first appeared in Ottawa in 2008.

But it has been a losing battle, as the prevalence of ash — they make up about a quarter of the forest cover in the city — has allowed the beetle to spread across neighbourhoods.

Gaylord said getting some value out of the wood is the next best alternative when the trees can't be saved.

The floors go through a kiln-drying process, which kills all the beetles, said Gaylord. He said he remembers a time when ash was hard to come by, but said he expects an enormous amount of ash wood to come on the market in the next few years as the emerald ash borer moves east.

"A lot of the municipalities are making it available, and it's a way to save the trees from going into a landfill," he said.

Customer Vasant Chivukula came to the store thinking he wanted maple or jatoba, but said he hadn't thought of ash as an option.

"I heard about the ash problem in the news. I didn't really relate that to getting a hardwood floor. But now I am considering it," said Chivukula.

Gaylord said the main selling point for consumers is price, as ash is cheaper than oak, but can be stained to look just like it.

"We're promoting it to 'get it before it's gone'. It's going to be a part of history," he said.

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