Sustainable building: Why wood is our most valuable resource | U.S. Green Building Council
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Published on
Written by
Posted in Industry

This article was originally published on on Aug. 12, 2015. Read the original version.

In some small way, each of us knows the value of wood as a resource. In fact, we use it every day—it heats our homes, makes our stationery, lines our floors. But in spite of all of its uses, wood is still a taboo material where building is concerned. Instead, we use concrete and steel in the hopes that our buildings (which are often our biggest investments) will remain strong and stable.

We tell ourselves that wood is too weak to sustain anything more than a few stories; that it’ll succumb to any number of elements–fire, water, you name it. But is any of this really true? While we prompt each other to ‘save the trees’ and find ways to eliminate wood from our construction processes, others are using this resource to develop and maintain sustainable building practices that will help us all in the long run.

While sustainable building–or green building–dates back centuries, it really came into focus during the 1970’s when environmentally conscious groups forged a movement that expressed a strong need for more nature-friendly building practices. Over the years, green building has come to mean that resource-efficient processes are used throughout a building’s life cycle, from siting all the way through to end-of-life deconstruction. And wood has played a major role in this cycle. With a carbon footprint that’s 75% less than that of concrete or steel, is it any wonder that wood has become a top contending material for green builders?

Let’s take a brief look at all the other great reasons wood tops the list:

  • Wood lets us reduce, reuse and recycle. With innovative design, we can optimize the materials we use to reduce the amount of waste we produce per job site. Excess wood can then be taken to recovery centers for recycling, where another builder can secure wood for his or her next project… all without tapping our forestlands for materials.
  • It’s renewable. Unlike many building materials (steel, for instance), wood does not deplete the earth of its natural resources. Because it’s a resource that more or less stands on its own, it can be grown and harvested over and over again.
  • We have more of it than we think. Since the 1940’s, forest growth in the United States has continually exceeded harvest, which means we use much less wood than we think we do. And, of the 750 million acres of forestland in the United States, about 20% of it is protected by conservation efforts. So, all in all, we’re in very good shape to continue using wood as our main building material.

The importance of forest certification

When shopping for wood, consumers often look to certified wood to ensure that they’re purchasing wood products that are, in fact, sourced from sustainable forests. This is important because these programs keep consumers and retailers in line when it comes to forestry practices. The more consumers demand sustainable products, the more retailers and forest managers shy away from destructive harvesting practices like clear-cutting and logging.

But what about fire safety?

Perhaps one of the most frequent arguments against wood as a suitable building material is that it may easily fall victim to fire damage. But most contractors who are using wood to build are doing it with Cross-Laminated Timber or CLT, which acts more like concrete than wood. Harvested from sustainably managed forests, CLT is prefabricated to make highly durable, long-lasting wood panels that exhibit excellent fire resistance.

Rather than quickly burn and disintegrate, CLT chars at a very slow and predictable rate, giving occupants more time to carry out an emergency exit strategy. Overall, timber is an especially attractive option for sustainable building. When compared to other woods, timber is much more energy efficient, uses less water, and has a lower carbon footprint.

Wood is a mainstay of our environment that consistently serves our needs and is always ready to do more. In adopting sustainable building practices, we can continue to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between ourselves and our forests. The more environmentally responsible we are in all areas of our lives (construction included), the easier we make it for our most precious resources to continue to grow and thrive.

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Total 4 commentsLeave a comment

All this talk of logging "destroying" forests is non-sense. Even clear-cutting is an environmentally sound logging practice that benefits far more animal and plant species than it harms. All credible forest certification systems (FSC included) allow clearing cutting in certain situations. All forests are self-regenerating without any aid from humans, and most animals prefer the "thick as hair on a dog's back" regrowth that occurs after a forest is clear cut. If you are looking for "diversity" in the forest don't look in the old growth forest, look in the recently past clear cuts. As the article states, the amount of forested land in the US has been growing, not decreasing for the last 75 years. It is in the forest products industry's best interest to keep it that way, it's only common sense, isn't it? Some day will we will run out of iron, and copper and tin, there are finite amounts of those on the planet Earth, but we will never run out of trees, every time we cut one down, ten more sprout up in it's place.
Wood has always been the most valuable resource for building houses and others products. It seems that lately, lot of industry and people are coming back to wood when it comes to protect the environment for example. On the other hand its a bit ambiguous because lot of forest suffers alot from all these industries so its kinda hard to find a way to not destroy all trees and forest to build stuff...
"The more consumers demand sustainable products, the more retailers and forest managers shy away from destructive harvesting practices like clear-cutting and logging." Really? You might want to rephrase, after all, how do you propose getting wood *without* "destructive harvesting practices" like logging?
Independent Sales Representative Bamboo Technologies, Bamboo Technologies
When talking about sustainable building products the one most overlooked is BAMBOO. Every time we build using 1 acre of bamboo we save 12 acres of forest. Bamboo is as strong a mild steel with the compression strength of concrete. Its termite proof , has withstood 173mph winds in the Cook islands. Because it tends to bend rather than break it has withstood a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake in Costa Rica. Where most timber comes from trees that take 20 to 40 years to grow bamboo being a grass can be harvested in 3 to 5 years without killing the roots which can grow for up to 100 years. If that wasn't enough bamboo is a natural carbon sink It captures and fold CO2 in its fibers when harvested. Bamboo Technologies, DBA, Bamboo Living, the company which I represent, has been building prefabricated homes constructed out of bamboo for 20 years. The two design types Hybrid and Standard make them suitable for single wall construction for milder climates, and the Hybrid package perfect for building codes that require insulation for heating and cooling. Bamboo Living homes are the first and only code certified permit-able bamboo structures in the world. I invite you to visit our site for a more information. I would welcome contact for anyone interested in learning more about our Homes. 516 445 6999

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