How to NOT Use Wood

During our discussions this week on wood as a material in both buildings and for smaller items such as furniture, I realized that while wood as a building material may be a great product, there are some drawbacks to the material as well as benefits.

The benefits are it looks quite exquisite, whether it is used as a building facade, or just a simple wood frame construction. Wood construction is a beautiful material that evokes sentimental emotions and can really be great for adding character and warmth. It is also very simple to use and maintain. The U.S. Sustainability report did a study on tracking the United States’ progress against internationally agreed and recognized sustainable forestry management standards. They found that in 2010, forest land area has remained stable since 2003. In fact, total forest area has been relatively stable for the last 100 years while the U.S. population has nearly tripled. They also found that an estimated 106 million acres of forest are in totally protected areas, representing 14% of all forest land. This report looked at the positive side of forestry and using wood as a building material. And also many companies state that they are being sustainable because they replant the forests that they cut down. But it takes time to grow these forests, and, well, I question it’s sustainability.

So many reports that I have been seeing don’t want to look at the negative side. The negative is more important to me, because it lets you look at what is bad and what could be improved. The center for Renewable Carbon at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture published a study looking at the carbon footprint of wood products. They found that most products, when compared to a substitute, wood comes out on top. I thought that wood, with all of the cutting down, manufacturing, and transportation, I would think that the carbon footprint would be higher. Although this study doesn’t account for transportation, it still paints an ok picture of the sustainability of wood production.

Carbon Footprint Analysis of Wood Products

Maybe it would be good to look at how great other options are as a substitute for wood. A product that I personally love is TREX. As a substitute for wood decking, nothing is more beautiful. It also uses no new trees. Since no trees are cut down for the product, it only uses recycled wood from other wood working project, wood sawdust, and old used pallets. Also their process is green as well. TREX trailers used to transport wood dust utilize vegetable-based oil hydraulics, their proprietary processing method eliminates smokestacks, and factory run-off/refuse is recycled back into the manufacturing line. This appeals a lot to people who want to build green. Plus, when done right, it looks so cool because it is available in more colors without having to use harmful stains and sealants.


One comment

  1. I really appreciate the content of this article and the look into the sustainability of wood as a building material. Throughout my young career in architecture, I have really taken wood on as a product that looks beautiful in design and a material I try and incorporate in many of my designs. I have also thought about the sustainability of wood as a product as you hear the constant destruction of rainforests in countries like Brazil. After looking into research about the deforestation of the Brazilian Rainforests, it is stated that deforestation is actually down 80% in the countries and is now at levels it was in the 1980’s.

    The carbon footprint analysis of wood also peaked my interest within this article. I have also thought about transportation and how that wood may get to the building site. Though there is some forestation that occurs in the Midwest, it seems primarily much of the logging takes place in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Like said in the blog post, this would definitely increase the carbon footprint of wood.

    Finally, I looked into the durability of natural wood materials in comparison to other products such as concrete or steel if, instead of using a wood substitute, natural wood products were used as a building material. In a study conducted in Minneapolis/St Paul, it focused on building type, age, structural material, and reason for demolition in 227 residential and non-residential buildings. What the study found was actually quite interesting, for non-residential buildings, 66 percent of them that used wood were over 50 years in age, 66 percent of concrete structures were under 50 years, and 90 percent of steel buildings were under 50 years.

    To summarize, when looking at the sustainability and durability of wood and wood substitutes, we obviously have to consider that a building ideally can’t be built out of just wood, it needs other products to complete the project, but wood may be more sustainable and durable than we would think in consideration to materials like concrete or steel.

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