Posted in Building Codes
Wood is Good
Homebuilders have more reasons to use more wood building products in home construction than ever before. For one thing, the use of forest products in the United States supports more than 1 million direct jobs and contributes more than $100 billion to the economy every year, according to a recent report by the USDA Forest Services titled “Science Supporting the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Using Wood and Wood Products in Green Building Construction.” But also because choosing wood has huge environmental benefits over steel and concrete.
According to the Canadian Wood Council, a national association representing manufacturers of Canadian wood products used in construction, it takes 12 percent more energy to produce a steel-based building than a wood-based one, and the process releases 15 percent more greenhouse gases, 10 percent more air pollutants, and 300 percent more water pollutants. A concrete-based building requires 20 percent more energy and releases 29 percent more greenhouse gases, 12 percent more air pollutants, and 225 percent more water pollutants.
Builders should take note of these numbers, and not just for purely environmental reasons. For one, they’re strong selling points to homeowners. They can help differentiate your company from the competition and give your customers confidence that they’re making the right choice.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has pledged to take an active role in the months ahead to push states and other code-writing agencies to reevaluate their standards and encourage the use of wood products. “Our country has the resources, the work force, and the innovative spirit to reintroduce wood products into all aspects of the next generation of buildings,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
What makes wood products so much cleaner than steel and concrete? Most people know that trees “breathe” in carbon dioxide, removing it from the air, and replace it with oxygen. That’s the opposite process than what takes place when you burn fossil fuels. But what homebuilders may not realize is that once carbon is pulled into a tree, it’s trapped there. It’s locked away in the wood. When you use wood to build, the carbon stays inside the building material.
Does it really make a difference? The USDA report cited a peer-reviewed survey article that found using wood components for residential construction reduced greenhouse gases by, on average, 2.1 tons for every 1 ton of carbon sequestered in the wood products.
Looking at a wall assembly alone, using wood for all components of a residential wall system can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as two-thirds compared to a conventional wood wall with non-wood components, according to the USDA report.
It’s important to note that these numbers include everything from the harvesting of the material, manufacturing and transportation to the construction process and ultimate disposition of the product. According to the USDA report, “Greater use of life cycle analysis in building codes and standards would improve the scientific underpinning of building codes and standards and thereby benefit the environment,” and the USDA plans to take a lead role in advancing wood as a green building material in the months and years ahead.
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