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- Using Wood for Responsible, Renewable Building
Using Wood for Responsible, Renewable Building
Studies and models like the Athena Life Cycle Assessment show that wood is by far the superior choice for building in all categories: total energy use to build, occupy, and dispose of; air and water emissions produced during manufacturing; solid waste generated in production and recovery; greenhouse gases produced during manufacturing; and ecological resource use. The model, developed by the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute for use by architects, builders, planners, and consumers, compares wood with steel and concrete for environmental impact.
Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace founder and now founder and chief scientist of the organization Greenspirit, is quick to point out that steel is manufactured in a plant, while trees are manufactured by nature. Trees come from nature and return there when their life of service is complete.
Many areas even offer recovered-wood programs, where wood retrieved from demolition sites and abandoned structures is sold for reuse. Many hardwood mantles, trims, railings, and doors are restored and reused daily. Even basic framing timbers can be recaptured and reused. “Whenever you buy wood, you send a signal to the forest to grow another tree,” says Moore. When that tree is responsibly grown and harvested, using wood helps regenerate forests and create living habitats, places of beauty, and recreation areas for all of us to enjoy.
Where Wood Is Used
A quick house tour will showcase wood’s ever-present place in daily life. Wood-framed homes are by far the most common construction in America today. Spruce, pine, or fir may be used. “Typically it’s spruce,” says Mike Gervais, president of Prime Construction in Burlington, VT. “Pine is usually saved for interior and exterior trims. It’s straighter grained and better quality,” he says.
Pine and cedar are also popular for exterior siding—clapboards, shakes, and shingles. “But with trim we also have other options like finger-jointed trim and culled wood products,” Gervais says. These are engineered lumber solutions that recover wood scraps and bind them in an epoxy or resin solution to create superior-strength, dimensionally stable framing and trim pieces.
Hardwoods like maple, cherry, and oak are typically used for high-profile applications like floors, trim, cabinetry, and furniture. Mahogany, cedar, and ironwood are popular choices for decks. Exterior doors are frequently made of hardwood and finished to bring out the rich grain and color of the wood.
Wood Makes Sense
Wood is still the dominant choice for trim because it is easily milled, profiled, and installed. Wood can be shaped, sanded, painted, or stained, making it an extremely versatile building product. Wood is easily repaired or replaced. Dings, nicks, and dents can be sanded and refinished. Trim can be changed. Even the house itself is easily expanded or altered when wood framing is used.
Other materials, such as concrete, are far less forgiving and require significant demolition and corresponding expense should the homeowner wish to change the shape, structure, or existing openings in the home.
Besides being adaptable, wood is a practical building material. Mills make wise use of wood, for both economic and environmental reasons. Nearly the entire tree is used. Bark is removed and used for mulch and decorative landscaping. First cuts and unusable board feet are recovered or culled for use in engineered wood products. Board ends are cut up and sold as hobby wood. Sawdust and shavings are packaged for animal bedding. In some mills, scrap wood is even used to produce energy or steam to keep the mill and kilns running.
“All these lumber companies are looking at ways to have zero waste,” Gervais explains. Whether it’s low-waste mill management, engineered lumber solutions, culled wood programs, or scrap recovery, economical use of timber and all of its products makes sense in today’s world.
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