first, why everyone, everywhere, should build with wood
For every person on this planet, this is our only home. It doesn't matter if you live in America, China, France, Brazil, India, South Africa - we all share the Earth and its finite resources. If you're not building with wood, you should be: It's our only renewable building material, and buildings constructed of wood cost less to heat and cool than steel or concrete homes.
In 1641 Jonathan Fairebanke moved his family into their new home. For eight generations, members of the Fairbanks family lived in Jonathan’s home until the early twentieth century when the house was turned into a museum. But what makes this particular home special enough to be a museum?
This house, the Fairbanks House of Dedham, Massachusetts, is a museum because it stands as the oldest surviving timber frame structure in North America. What Jonathan Fairbanke knew centuries ago, many homeowners today still discover; wood is our planet’s most affordable and durable choice for building a home. Around the world, homebuilders continually find that wood has high value at a low cost for home construction, is naturally energy efficient and an environmentally sound choice.
Throughout all stages of building, wood ranks high on the list of competitively priced building materials. Wood uses 53% less energy than steel to produce into construction ready form and 120% less energy than concrete. Even though almost half, 47% to be exact, of all raw material production in the United States consists of wood products, wood requires only 4% of energy of all raw materials.
In a 2014 study done by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials comparing construction of both steel and wood framed homes in Atlanta and Minneapolis, the steel framed house in Minneapolis used 17% more energy than the wood equivalent in a life-cycle assessment which considered energy needed to produce building materials, construct, maintain and demolish a home.
Unlike steel and concrete, wood has the singular benefit of its status as a renewable resource. Since 1970 the area of North American forests has increased by 20 million acres and every year 2.15 billion trees are planted. In comparison to steel, which is a non renewable resource, the price of wood is consumer driven while steel not only can not be replaced each year, but steel prices are market driven. Home builders will find prices dictated by the larger steel market, rather than just other homeowners.
In North America, nine out of ten home builders construct their house using wood. Traditionally, wood has always been a top choice in home framing and construction in North America, for a number of good reasons, not the lease of which are that most construction tools are manufactured for use with wood, and the majority of contractors are primarily experienced with wood framing.
In areas particularly prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, such as China, Japan, Indonesia, Chile and elsewhere, some builders will mistakenly give more consideration to alternative building materials solely because they believe a wood home can not provide as much protection. This brings us to a common misconception, that wood framed homes are not as strong as steel framed homes. All homes are built to the same set of building codes, so wood homes are equally strong as steel homes.
In addition to its strength as a building material, wood is also naturally energy efficient. In the U.S. heating and cooling homes accounts for 50% of all utility costs and 15% of all energy used in North America. Since wood is 400 times less heat conductive than steel and 8.5 times less heat conductive than concrete, wood homes take far less energy to heat and cool. With energy costs rising across the country, wood helps cuts costs through its versatility. Wood framing and wall sheathing can easily be moved in or out to accommodate extra insulation (or any other alterations and modifications to the existing finished structure – try doing extensive renovations on a steel or concrete building!), while wood itself contains excellent properties as a natural insulator.