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Forest Products Extension

For Building Houses, Wood is the Environmental Choice

It makes sense that building with wood – a renewable, natural resource – would have environmental benefits compared with steel or concrete. This common sense judgment is now being backed up with scientific data.

CORRIM, a non-profit group of university and industry research groups has been examining the environmental costs of many products, including various building materials. CORRIM uses a “cradle-to-grave” approach called Life Cycle Assessment to estimate the total impacts of the manufacture and use of products. For example, for a piece of construction lumber, this would include the gasoline used in the chainsaw to cut the tree in the forest, and all of the other energy “inputs” and pollution “outputs” along the process until that piece of wood is installed at the housing site.

In one study, houses in various areas of the country made with wood, steel or concrete frames were compared for the total energy consumed in the manufacture the house and the total pollution created (including the total carbon dioxide [CO2 - a “greenhouse gas”], total air pollution, water emissions and solid waste). The results of their research show that wood-frame houses have less environmental impact in almost every category. The table below shows some of the data.

Compared with a wood-framed house…

A steel-frame house 1

A concrete-frame house

Energy required

17% more

16% more

Carbon dioxide produced

26% more

31% more

Air pollution

14% more

23% more

Water emissions

312% more

Same

Solid waste

<1% less

51% more

1 In this case, a wood-frame, residential house was compared with a similar steel-frame structure in Minnesota . For the concrete-frame/wood-frame example, houses in Atlanta were compared.

Many of us are already aware of some of the many benefits of using wood. It is used to make strong, efficient and durable houses. Wood is an attractive and comfortable material from which we make beautiful furniture and flooring. Wood is also very versatile and abundant and is used in thousands of products necessary to daily life. Perhaps the best thing about wood is where is comes from: the forests of Tennessee are the “factories” that make wood and other “products” such as wildlife habitat, recreational areas and clean air and water. This recent data on the environmental advantages of using wood for housing is providing more evidence for what we already know: Wood is Good!

Go tothe CORRIM stie for more information

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email