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When Is Wood the Eco-Friendly Design Option?

House built entirely of wood

Eco-friendliness matters to today’s homebuyers. In one recent survey, 82% of homebuyers said they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable options. Where does wood fit into this equation?

Technically, wood is an infinitely renewable resource as long as land exists for growing trees. However, it takes time for saplings to mature – is it always the best choice for builders?

In some cases, no. But in most cases, the answer is yes. When is wood the eco-friendly design option? Here are five scenarios to consider.

Wood for Common Home Upgrades

Most homeowners concern themselves with sustainability when choosing renovation materials, perhaps as they ready their homes to sell. Here’s where many overlook wood as their best choice, seeking the latest space-age polymer instead. Plastics and composites stem from non-renewable resources like oil.

However, don’t newer materials offer superior reliability and durability? Quite frankly, it’s tough to compete with the longevity of wood when properly produced.

Additionally, wood’s natural insulating ability makes it a natural choice for garage door upgrades, while synthetic materials require polyurethane or polystyrene foam to keep out the cold. These materials can release toxic carbon monoxide when burned and leak chemicals into the ground when left in landfills.

Fire remains a concern, especially for people who live in the west. However, today’s cross-laminated timber can take the heat. These boards consist of varying wood pieces layered and pressed together in a way that gives them more of the consistency of concrete than timber. They can tolerate a blaze for several hours, charring only on the outside but maintaining structural integrity underneath.

When Heat Conservation Matters

Remember that bit about wood being a fantastic insulator? Saving on heating and cooling costs is one way to reduce energy consumption, even if property owners don’t switch to sustainable production methods like solar. It also keeps more money in the homeowner’s pocket each month instead of going to the utility company.

Consider these impressive statistics: Wood is 15 times more insulating than masonry, 400 times more efficient than steel, and a whopping 1,770 times better than aluminum. That’s because air pockets form part of its cellular structure. Composites such as CLT, Glulam, and laminated veneer lumber offer even more than traditional boards in heat conservation.

 Interior with wooden elements

When Repurposing Materials

Some home improvement projects don’t require a major outlay on materials. For example, homeowners who want to construct a plant wall for herbs on a sunny patio may not need to spend a dime. Why? They can pick up the frame they need in the form of a free repurposed pallet from their local hardware store.

However, it isn’t only DIYers who benefit from wood’s near-infinite recyclability. Reclaimed wood is big business in the green building industry, with some manufacturers scouring the landscape for abandoned structures free from contaminants and decay. Authentic American barn wood is safe to reuse, and these companies do the environment double-duty in cleaning up unused buildings before they decay and repurposing their treasures.

When Biodegradability Matters

All good things eventually come to an end and human construction is no exception. When a structure has surpassed its useful lifetime, demolition can create severe environmental stress. It spews dust and debris into the air, impacting quality, and makes tons of waste, not all of which is reusable.

However, wood naturally biodegrades, unlike polymers, which can leak chemicals into landfills as they decompose. It’s still better to reclaim wood from old structures and compost what remains – conditions in landfill facilities aren’t ideal, resulting in tons of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, wood is the more eco-friendly choice when biodegradability matters.

When Improving Indoor Air Quality

Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but their eco-friendly benefits end when they transform into lumber, right? Not necessarily. The wood inside building walls won’t respire, and it emits 29% less greenhouse gas and 20% less pollutant matter into indoor air than comparable synthetic materials.

Furthermore, wood construction helps property owners balance humidity levels, which is crucial for preventing mold and maintaining comfort. This material moderates the surrounding moisture, absorbing the excess so residents can breathe more comfortably.

When Wood Is the Eco-Friendly Design Option

Many homeowners and DIYers overlook wood’s superior sustainability. While this material may be ancient, it scores high for overall eco-friendliness.

Understanding when wood is the eco-friendly design option helps builders make the most ecologically sound choices. They can construct their dream homes while minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment.

Author: Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work focuses on interior and architectural design and has been published by Build Magazine, the National Association of REALTORS and other online publications.