While wood has long been celebrated for its durability, beauty and value as a building material, a new belief is emerging, that alleges any alternative to wood is environmentally preferable. So how does wood stack up as a green building material? The answer is, quite well actually.
Many may not realize that wood is a renewable, recyclable and biodegradable material, with numerous environmental benefits. As one of the foremost energy efficient and effective building materials, wood is the only energy self-sufficient building material while being manufactured. Wood remains the number one industrial raw material, accounting for almost half of consumption, but only accounts for less than 5 percent of the total energy used during its’ manufacture.
Comparatively, steel accounts for only 23 percent of raw material, while consuming almost 50 percent of the total energy input. While steel’s energy input comes in the form of mining and burning coal, both non-renewable, the primary energy input for wood is from solar energy. Wood is also an energy-efficient building material when used in a structure, because wood is a natural insulator, it’s 15 times more efficient than concrete and 400 times that of steel.
It also takes nine times more energy to produce a steel stud than to produce a wood stud. Five times more energy is used for aluminum siding than wood siding. Steel, both new and recycled, uses 4,000 times more coal, oil, and gas in its refining, manufacturing, and fabricating process than wood does.
Wood is also environmentally friendly. The notion of the country running out of trees is a myth and a falsehood. While it’s true that early in our country’s history the forests were looked upon as a mineable resource, it’s important to consider the facts.
The real story is that almost three billion trees are planted in America’s forestlands each
year. Our forest growth now exceeds tree removals by 37 percent. While, things weren’t always that way, the adoption of the first Tree Farm Act and in 1944 changed the American mindset. Since then, America has grown more trees each year in America than it has used for making paper, houses, books and other things used every day.
Another environmental plus for wood is its impact on the global carbon cycle. Scientists challenge that rising levels of carbon are leading to global warming. Growing wood fiber in working forests is very beneficial to the balance of carbon in the atmosphere. The growth of one pound of wood absorbs 1.4-7 pounds of carbon dioxide and releases 1.07 pounds of oxygen. The simple fact is that trees act as natural air filters, absorbing unwanted carbon dioxide gas and releasing breathable oxygen.
Economically speaking, wood is among the most sustainable materials available. Americans use wood fiber in huge quantities, with the current annual per capita use of wood products being one “standard” tree. In the last 100 years, advances have provided our society with much more value from that same wood fiber.
Cedar specifically is thought of as one of the world’s most durable woods. Its naturally resistant to moisture, decay and insect damage make it the ideal choice for a surface that is exposed to the sun, rain, heat and cold all year long.
Our local choices truly have global consequences. Wood is the product of sunlight, earth, air and water—all natural elements. Trees grow back; strip mines, gravel pits and depicted oil wells do not. The responsible growth, harvest, processing and re-growth of wood fiber for building material is the most benign path to a sustainable future.