Part One—Wood is Nature’s Gift
By Rick Reynolds
If wood didn’t “grow on trees,” so to speak, we would have had to invent it. The material is truly a stroke of genius, compliments of Mother Nature. As an all-natural product, wood is multi-layered, which gives it great tensile strength: its cellulose is bound by a glue-like substance called lignin, making it analogous to steel-reinforced concrete. And beyond the amazing properties of wood, its beauty is timeless.
Wood has many uses.
Because different timber species have their own distinct characteristics and properties, wood’s versatility is astounding—both technically and visually. Its high weight-to-strength ratio and its ability to be combined with other materials, means wood can satisfy even the most demanding applications required by today’s designers, engineers—and you!
Wood is comfortable.
Wood is warm in every sense of the word. The warm, rich tones of wood mellow over time, providing the eye with a pallet of color that feels at the same time, familiar and comfortable. Also, wood houses physically warm up quickly and, because of the slight differential between wall and indoor air temperatures, drafts common to masonry buildings are prevented.
Different wood species have different levels of resistance to damaging organisms, so, depending on their application, suitable types of timber can be selected based on their natural durability. In addition, even within a cross-section of timber, there are different levels of durability, allowing discerning builders to choose just the right combinations to ensure buildings will last for hundreds of years. This is why there are 200-400-year-old wood buildings in Europe that have survived without chemical treatment!
Wood is generous.
Because of the relative slimness of its construction, a timber house offers more useable space than a masonry house of similar R-value. This translates into approximately 10% more usable space which, on an average size house, can mean an extra room.
Wood is cooperative.
Wood is friendly to all the latest advances in building science, including off-site fabrication of construction assemblies using highly precise CNC machinery. Free from the damaging effects of weather, wood can be engineered to exacting tolerances. Additionally, the highly finished, prefabricated assemblies and the favorable weight-to-strength ratio of timber means that they can be transported efficiently and the building can be rapidly assembled on site, shortening the time of the construction loans.
Wood is sustainable.
As a renewable resource, wood is a remarkably “green” building material. Managed forests regenerate themselves, so resources aren’t depleted. And, perhaps most importantly, as trees grow, they emit oxygen (a 75 ft. tall tree generates enough breathable oxygen for three human lifetimes) while absorbing and storing the greenhouse gas, CO2, from the atmosphere. The CO2 remains in the wood for centuries, and after its service is done, the wood can be reprocessed or burned, emitting no more CO2 than was originally absorbed, making it carbon neutral. Also notable: the processing of timber requires far less energy than other building materials.
Wood: The Ultimate Building Material
How people harmonize with their living environment is of utmost importance to both designers and builders. The manner in which a building’s materials affect its inhabitants must be taken into account to ensure no unhealthy emissions compromise the living environment. These long-term pollutants include dust, volatile organic compound (VOC) gases—even radiation. Wood is an essential ingredient to a biological home, offering optimal thermal protection while at the same time, allowing the home to breathe, leading to a low operating cost. And last but not least, the soft, open-pored surface of timber acts acoustically to dampen noise while amplifying ambiance.
‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” As it turns out, what’s good for a healthy indoor environment is also true for the outdoor environment as well. The short and long-term effects of building materials and their manufacture must be minimized for a healthy ecology. As an all-natural product, wood requires the least amount energy among all building materials for its production, and that energy is provided at no extra cost by the sun. Moreover, wood has a low transport mass (think weight), meaning it requires less energy to move it. In fact, a wood house has half the mass of one made of brick, which means half the amount of energy is needed to produce it and bring it to the build site. To put it in more familiar terms, the energy saved building a timber house compared to one using concrete or steel, is equivalent to the energy needed to heat a house for 15 years.
Wood: The Natural Choice
When all these qualities are added to the fact that wood is easily recycled at the end of its useful life, virtually eliminating waste, it’s clear that wood is the natural choice for builders and homebuyers alike.