Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wood: Nature's only renewable building material

The 3 R's of green building are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. While these three factors are very important for finite materials such as metals, cement and plastics (an oil byproduct), a larger emphasis needs to be placed on Renewable. This month's feature in the Continuing Education Center section of Architectural Center titled Wood Rates: How Wood Products Stack Up in Green Building Systems explores wood's full potential as a sustainable building material and the advantages of using it over other non renewable materials. Below are some of the article's main points:

- Wood is an abundant, affordable and renewable natural resource, and when sourced from well-managed forests, it can be environmentally benign, as well.

- Strength for strength, wood uses less energy to produce than concrete or steel.

- Timber that ends up as wood products for use in buildings actually stores carbon over the life of the building.

- Wood’s inherent environmental merits include its material efficiency related to its combined thermal mass, as well as its water resistance, structural integrity and finish quality.

- Clean wood waste is easily recyclable. Add to these attributes the fact that wood can offer habitat restoration and eco-system well-being, support for local economies and contribution to carbon neutral/positive building.

- Wood’s natural beauty and warmth have a positive effect in any application and have been shown to generate improved productivity and performance in schools, offices and better patient outcomes in hospitals.

The key to this article is that the wood is harvested from well managed sources. While this holds true in countries like the United States where the volume of hardwoods in American forests today is 90 percent larger than it was 50 years ago, an added emphasis must be placed on restocking the forest in countries where agriculture has devastated its once abundant forest stock. Reforesting these spent cow pastures would offer a green answer by growing a steady supply of renewable building resources where the rainforest once dominated.

In addition to increasing the supply of sustainable hardwood products, consumers and builders alike must do its part by demanding certified wood products. On this note, we are happy to report that the new Pittsburgh Penguins hockey arena recently achieved Gold LEED status and received high marks for its use of certified wood (see article).

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