Wood – The Ultimate Green Building Material

By Pryor Gibson, Executive Vice President, North Carolina Forestry Association

In recent editorials, the concrete industry has attacked building codes and those who enforce them while telling half-truths about wood construction for its own gain.  This is more than just a scare tactic to intimate builders and the public – it is a symptom of assigning blame to others to cover up its own short-comings.  In truth, concrete cannot measure up to wood.

Wood is  the only building material that is 100 percent natural, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable.  The only energy required to produce wood is the sun.  Unlike concrete, trees provide countless environmental benefits over their decades long life-cycle before becoming part of a structure.   In addition to trapping carbon, the manufacturing of wood products uses far less energy and produces fewer pollutants than any other building material.

Blaming the recent fire in downtown Raleigh on building code mistakes or wood as a construction material is simply untrue.  Wood is a user-friendly material that is stronger than all others pound for pound.  Wood chars at a slow and predictable rate when exposed to intense flames.  This charring actually protects the interior wood, helping to maintain the building’s structural integrity in the early stages of a fire.  In strength tests involving intense fire, cross laminated timber beams outperform steel beams.

If a tragedy of combustion excluded a building material from future use, then certainly the recent disaster of concrete freeway bridge in Atlanta that fell after less than 30 minutes would ban concrete from being used in future transportation projects.  Obviously, this is not practical.

Another misguided concrete fable is the praise for the few towns that have banned wood construction in low rise residential building as proof of concrete’s superiority.  In reality, those restrictions were put in place to halt over-development.  The town leaders understood that using concrete would make additional building too costly and essentially kill all future construction projects. Claiming advantage because your product is too expensive to use is not an attribute.

Just as an urban forestry initiative improves any city landscape, wood construction provides a better environment for our citizens both young and old to live and learn.  Some school construction projects now focus on increasing the utilization and amount of wood in the classrooms and libraries to improve the learning atmosphere for their students – the Duke School in Durham is an example of this forward thinking.

Wood has an unsurpassed history of being a safe, affordable, aesthetically pleasing, and environmental friendly building solution for construction projects of all shapes and sizes.