The Advantages of Wood as a Building Material

Wood is obviously both a common and a historical choice as a building material. However, in the past few decades, there has been a move away from wood in favor of engineered products or metals like aluminum.

While the desire to not rely on the world’s forests for building demands is well-intentioned, the advantages of wood as a building material still outweigh other products on the market when looking at the environmental impact and performance.

Wood’s Characteristics

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Why Is Wood a Good Building Material?

Tensile strength – For being a relatively lightweight building material, wood outperforms even steel when it comes to breaking length (or self-support length). Simply put, it can support its own weight better, which allows for larger spaces and fewer necessary supports in some building designs.

Electrical and heat resistance – Wood has a natural resistance to electrical conduction when dried to standard moisture content (MC) levels, usually between 7%-12% for most wood species. (This conductivity is, in fact, the basis for one type of moisture measurement system.) Its strength and dimensions are also not significantly affected by heat, providing stability to the finished building and even safety implications for certain fire situations.

Sound absorption – Wood’s acoustic properties make it ideal for minimizing echo in living or office spaces. Wood absorbs sound, rather than reflecting or amplifying it, and can help significantly reduce noise levels for additional comfort.

Beauty – With the wide variety of species available, wood presents an incredible range of aesthetic options, as well as provides varied mechanical, acoustic, thermal properties along with others that can be selected based on the need of the building project.

Wood’s Green Advantage

IMG-20200924-WA0053.jpgAt a time when ecological concerns are high, the trend has been to move away from wood as a building material in order to prevent deforestation, in part as an attempt to manage greenhouse gasses.

However, a closer look at the reasons for this thinking can prove to be slightly off track. Wood has several advantages that help both the builder and the environment.

Wood Is Renewable

Unlike concrete or metals, wood is a building material that can be grown and regrown through natural processes and also through replanting and forestry management programs. Select harvesting and other practices allow growth to continue while larger trees are harvested.

While the forests are growing (via solar energy), they are also naturally and efficiently removing carbon dioxide from the environment. It’s a bonus unique to wood.

Wood Is More Readily Processed for Use

Rough Sawn Timber.jpgWhen compared to building materials like steel or concrete, the life cycle of wood has a lower overall impact on the environment than its counterparts and as a result, also costs significantly less to produce. Wastewater production and environmental impact are also significantly lower in wood manufacturing processes, particularly when compared to steel.

Many lumber mills use wood byproducts (chips, bark, etc.) as biofuel for their facilities to reduce the fossil fuel burden of the production process, and moisture measurement systems like Wagner Meters’ Moisture Management and Grade Recovery Program allow mills to maximize efficiency and produce less sub-grade and waste materials in the drying process.

As forest management and replanting programs continue to grow, these benefits are continually multiplied.

Wood Emits Lower Volatile Organic Compounds


As a natural building material, wood emits significantly lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide off-gasses than aluminum, steel, concrete and plastics. This is not, however, necessarily true of engineered wood products or composite wood products.    

Wood’s lower VOC impact is of particular benefit to homes and offices that are occupied on a daily basis. In fact, one of the things wood does give off is a natural organic compound that relaxes people–it’s not just the warmth of wood’s color that creates such an inviting effect.

Wood Enhances Energy Efficiency

Wood has a higher insulation rating than either steel or plastic as a result of its natural cellular structure. This means that homes and buildings require less energy to maintain heating and cooling, plus wood can help regulate humidity levels to a small degree.

20171105_131258.jpgWood Is Biodegradable

One of the biggest challenges of many building materials, including concrete, metal, and plastics, is that when they are discarded, they take an impossibly long time to decompose. When exposed to natural climate conditions, wood will break down much more quickly and actually replenish the soil in the process.

On the flip side, understanding the role of moisture and wood rot means that when conditions for the wood are optimized, the lifespan of the building or floor can easily outlive the lifespan of the tree!

by Larry Loffer 

Information from wagnersmeter.com.

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