Seattleite Spotlight: Sustainability Guru Scott Royer

The owner of Windfall Lumber explains the importance of reclaimed wood.

All photos courtesy of Windfall Lumber.

Tumwater-based Windfall Lumber had been in business for nearly five years when Scott Royer, a Wisconsin-born transplant, purchased the company from its original owners in 2001. Under his leadership, Windfall has become one of the state’s leading providers of tables, countertops, wall panels and cladding rendered from reclaimed wood. Some of Windfall’s local clients have included Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and the University of Washington; the company has also collaborated with several  locally based nonprofit organizations.

I recently spoke with Scott about his company’s mission, the process of reclaiming wood, and why sustainability in woodworking is critical for the environment.

When did you first become passionate about woodworking?

I grew up in rural Wisconsin surrounded by deciduous forests and talented woodworkers. I spent time as a kid hanging out with older men who worked only with hand tools and hardwoods from the area. My first wood projects were at summer camp and I’m amazed I still have all 10 fingers!

What initially brought you to the Pacific Northwest?

I was in the software business for my first career. I moved to the PNW from Chicago to work for ESRI, the GIS software company. Really what brought me here was the fact that I could hike in real mountains, sail, and ski in the same day.

Where did the name ‘Windfall Lumber’ originate?

Ian Hanna, Pete Chramiec, Michael Moore, and J.T. Scott got together and bought a wood mizer mill after the December 1996 ice storm in the Pacific Northwest. They started salvaging logs and sawing timber which was windfall from the storm.

How did you first get involved with Windfall Lumber, and what led you to purchase the company in 2001?

I watched Ian Hanna develop the business in the Olympia market and was inspired by the beautiful wood that came from the urban forest. At the same time, I was involved in a street tree project in my neighborhood for a couple years. I wrote a plan to market City of Olympia owned logs to fund the street tree program, all while working in the building salvage business. By 2001, after getting out of the salvage business, I approached Ian with the idea of turning Windfall into something bigger. He went on to do advocacy work for FSC and I bought the business.

Wood reclamation, step 1: Raw timber is hauled to the Windfall Lumber facility.

How has Windfall Lumber evolved under your leadership in the last 12 years?

I decided early on that varied sustainable sources were required to maintain and grow the business so I developed reclaimed, FSC, and salvaged wood sources. The obvious market at the time was residential products which we had manufactured using local mills. It was difficult to manage as processing reclaimed wood is a different experience than traditional lumber milling.

12 years ago, there wasn’t much experience in the wood processing world for converting larger volumes of reclaimed material into product. Our customer base has changed as well. Now the majority of our products are purchased for commercial use.

What (if any) effect did the recent housing bust have on your business in terms of residential projects?

In January 2008, we built a plant in Tumwater, nine months before the crash. Through 2009 and 2010 we developed commercial products and a market. The recession forced us to completely reinvent the company.

What are some of products that are currently available from Windfall Lumber?

We have developed an engineered panel made from reclaimed wood. Designers specify its use for covering walls, ceilings, and casework. We also have a line of wall cladding, tables, and countertops.

Where does your company acquire the wood you use to manufacture these products?

Demolition or renovation of schools, defunct granaries, commercial building demolition, pallets and dunnage from imported products, and textile mills from the southeastern U.S. Some of our counter and table tops come from FSC certified wood suppliers, and we still bring in salvaged wood too.

Wood reclamation, step 2: ‘Pre-process’ (that’s Royer on the left).

How does the wood reclamation process work?

We haul the material to our plant where it is offloaded by dumpster or forklift. We have a team of guys who organize, cull obvious defects, and denail the wood. The wood then enters our facility in an orderly fashion where it gets sawn and kiln dried. All of this is what we call “pre-process.”

The wood then gets processed into particular products ― cladding, panels, table tops, and so on. These different products are made by separate teams within the facility as the tooling and skills are fairly unique. Everything then goes to finishing, packaging, and shipping.

How does reclaiming wood benefit the environment?

There are three ways reclaimed wood helps the environment: fewer incinerator emissions, waste reduction, and forest protection. We use a lot of material that would otherwise be sent to the landfill or chipped and used for incinerator fuel. Our core mission is waste diversion. We also can point to the use of reclaimed wood as an alternate to using virgin timber, FSC or otherwise.

Is there a noticeable difference in quality between reclaimed wood and standard timber?

For our engineered panels and wall cladding, we process the material and provide a finish texture and stain that creates the final patina. With some of our products, one really couldn’t see a difference. This is a key differentiator between Windfall and other reclaimed wood companies, as most of our products do not rely on typical reclaimed grain or patina to achieve a certain aesthetic.

What are some of the considerations homeowners should make before purchasing furniture or installing fixtures made from reclaimed wood?

Celebrate nail holes, cracks, and staining. Be prepared for surprises, as we can’t always predict the exact end appearance.

Windfall Lumber’s Seattle projects have included designs for Amazon, Microsoft, and the University of Washington. Do you have any other locally based projects in the works?

We do a fair amount of work for Starbucks. We recently built a very cool stacked timber wall and bar front for the new University Village store. We also recently had the pleasure of supplying tables and materials for 3 retail cafes next to each other in the Wildwood building in the south capitol neighborhood in Olympia. Within the past year, we reused material from the deconstructed portion of the library at the Clover Park Technical College to build a beautiful staircase in the new library addition.

Wood reclamation, Step 3: Finished product (this countertop is located at Olympia Coffee Roasters).

Windfall Lumber recently took part in the Explore Design Home Tour, AIA Seattle’s annual showcase of sustainable architecture. What is the ‘Family Share Project’, and how did your company contribute to it?

The Family Share custom house was designed with an accessory dwelling unit to take advantage of an allowance in the single family zoning code in Seattle. The primary dwelling, 1330 square feet on the upper two stories, is home to a mother and teenage son. The accessory dwelling, 795 square feet, provides a leasable smaller space for a tenant or downsizing in the future. Designed to minimize its footprint on the site and embrace the site’s topography, the new home was purposely made smaller than the original 1930’s house. The original home was completely deconstructed so that its salvaged parts could have a new life in other design applications. The new design for the home is modern with a sustainable theme, incorporating a palette of natural materials.

Windfall Lumber contributed the reclaimed fir car decking which wraps around the exterior, creating the rain-screen siding. It was sourced locally from a deconstructed warehouse in Tacoma. The architect was Bradley Khouri, the Principal and founder of b9 architects inc., and the builder was Travis Gaylord, who is a project manager at Alchemy Building Company.

In addition to AIA Seattle, what are some of the other local nonprofits your company has collaborated with?

We really believe in supporting the FSC and are partnering with them to develop their ‘Design & Build with FSC’ continuing education program. In addition, we are looking into supporting Green Builder Media’s Vision House in Seattle and becoming members of local chapters of organizations such as the Retail Design Institute and the IIDA.

If you would like to learn more about reclaimed wood, Royer says that the Forest Stewardship Council U.S. and Sustainable N.W. Wood are two helpful resources. For more information about Windfall Lumber products and projects, be sure to visit the company’s official website.