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How Sustainable Is Building With Wood?

Beautiful and Natural Wood is Sustainable Too!

Wood is a natural material that has been used for centuries for building and construction. And it’s easy to see why! Not only is it durable and readily available, but there’s really nothing like the look of natural wood. The warmth and lustre of wood interiors, furniture, and décor elevates living spaces.

Wood is certainly beautiful, but did you know that choosing to build from wood can be environmentally friendly? While the idea of cutting down trees doesn’t sound like the ‘greenest’ thing, when you compare wood to other materials, you’ll find that building with wood is a very sustainable choice.


Wood is a Renewable Resource

One of the biggest advantages of wood is that it is a renewable resource. The definition of a renewable resource is one that can be regenerated and harvested in a sustainable way. Sustainable forestry practices are key to making sure that the wood used in our furniture and homes is harvested in ways that are respectful to nature.

In North America, the responsible harvesting of wood has led to a growth in forests. Even though the population of the USA has tripled in the past 100 years, forest area in the USA is now greater than it was in the year 1900. This is great news! It means that in spite of growing consumption needs, through careful management we are still able to meet demand without sacrificing our natural woodlands. Instead of chopping down pristine, untouched environments, wood is ‘farmed’ on special plots of land that are carefully managed and monitored.

The type of wood matters when it comes to sustainability. Some trees grow much faster than others, and as a rule, it is better to use these species. Pine, fir, and spruce are usually the best choices for sustainable wood, especially for building.

So what about other building materials? Steel, concrete, and plastic are all non-renewable resources. Once they are taken out of the ground in the form of metal ores or fossil fuels, there is no way to regenerate them. That means they are finite, and once we run out, it’ll be permanent. It’s also the case that the production of these materials is much harder on the environment, but more on that later.


Carbon Sequestration

Flooring Options - Pressure Treated Decking
Wood can be used in almost all parts of a building, even the flooring

Trees are the lungs of the world. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, and this carbon is stored in the wood. The carbon is essential to the trees growth, and makes up the structural components of the wood itself. When wood is used for building, the carbon captured during growth is kept out of the atmosphere. This can help reduce greenhouse gasses in the air, and can help to mitigate climate change. The carbon can only return to the atmosphere if it is burned… otherwise when it decomposes, it enters the soil.

As we mentioned before, the forests in the USA are growing, which is in no small part due to responsible forestry practices. Did you know that 1.7 Billion trees are planted in the USA every year? That’s more than 5 per person in the country! Imagine how much carbon is being taken up as these trees grow. In this way, the lumber industry can actually help in the fight against global warming.

Let’s compare this to other building materials. Steel, concrete, and plastic aren’t able to absorb any atmospheric carbon as they are being created. This means that they can’t offset any carbon emissions that occur as they are prepared for construction. Concrete alone is considered to be responsible for anywhere from 4% to 8% of global CO2 emissions. This is because as concrete cures, it actually emits carbon dioxide, in addition to all the carbon-intensive resources it takes to prepare the raw materials.

Non-renewable building materials make up a huge amount of CO2 emissions. Source: https://carbon-positive.org/about/

Energy Efficiency

Otter Creek Log Cabin- Front Angle
Wood can act as a natural insulator for cabins and cottages

Wood is also an energy-efficient building material. It is a good insulator, which helps to keep buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This can save energy on heating and cooling costs. The natural insulation properties of wood are a part of why log cabins were so popular in Northern Europe and on the American Frontier. What makes wood such a good insulator? Well, the structure of wood is naturally filled with air pockets. Wood is 15 times better at insulating than brick and stone, 400 times better than steel, and 1770 times better than aluminum at insulating buildings!

Wood is also more energetically efficient to produce than other building materials. For example, in order to melt and harden steel, it needs to be heated to very high temperatures. The ovens used to super-heat the steel use a lot of energy and generate a lot of CO2 emissions. While wood can be kiln-dried or heat-treated to ensure longevity, the temperatures are much lower and therefore much less carbon intensive.

Compare how much energy wood production takes:

Cement takes 500% more energy to produce than wood

Steel and Glass take 2,400% more energy to produce than wood

Aluminum takes 4000% more energy to produce than wood


A Last Word on Wood

Wood is a sustainable material with a number of environmental benefits. It is a renewable resource, helps to sequester carbon dioxide, is energy-efficient, and durable. Wood can be used in a variety of sustainable design applications. If you are looking for a sustainable building material, wood is a great choice. So there’s no need to feel guilty in choosing wood as a building material. In fact, it can help the environment! For example if you’re building a 2,400 sqft wood-frame house, you’ll sequester 28.5 tons of carbon dioxide. This is as much CO2 as a small car emits over the course of 7 years.

If you are considering using wood as a building material, check out our line of buildings offered as Pre-Cut Kits. These kits come with the lumber pre-measured and cut, to make building easy. Many people find that purchasing our Pre-Cut kits saves them lots of time during their build, and the diagrams and instructions we provide further streamline the construction process.

Here are some additional benefits of using wood as a building material:

  • Wood is a natural material that is aesthetically pleasing. It can be used to create a variety of different looks, from rustic to modern.
  • Wood is a relatively inexpensive building material. This makes it a good option for budget-minded builders.
  • Wood is easy to work with. It can be cut, shaped, and joined using a variety of tools.
  • Wood is a versatile material. It can be used for a variety of different purposes, including framing, flooring, and roofing.

With proper care and maintenance, your wood building can provide many years of service. We hope that you feel confident in choosing wood for your projects, now that you know how sustainable building with wood really is!

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