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Wood is great stuff, it is a natural product, renewable, can be shaped, fabricated in many useful objects, and it can become Art.
But is it environmentally responsible to use it to build large buildings?
Here on the east coast of the United States many multistory multifamily buildings have been built in recent years utilizing wood almost exclusively as structural members. The international press has carried news stories describing a number of ground breaking multi-story mid-rise buildings recently utilizing wood with many more in the planning stages. When these buildings reach the end of there useful life will the wood materials be recycled? What will be the cost to remove the wood from a large building? - will the wood still be useful? What is the total embodied environmental and energy cost utilized in transportation, fabrication, and construction when utilizing wood? If consideration is made for the amount of carbon a tree will extract from the environment over its lifetime what is the cost in terms of the carbon cycle and balance sheet if the wood is not recycled? Are we just crating a large problem for future generations by using wood? How will they recycle or dispose of it?
Wood initially is inexpensive - the alternatives steel and concrete are initially more expensive and have higher carbon footprints related to there initial raw material extracting and manufacturing processes. Steel can be recycled and remanufactured efficiently and economically today. Concrete can be recycled. Given the amount of energy (carbon) expended over a lifetime of recycling do these materials provide less of a carbon footprint that cutting large amounts of trees, fabrication of structural and standardized building elements, and construction for wood buildings? There have been press reports for recent advances in reducing the amount of energy (carbon) to manufacture concrete, its carbon footprint is being significantly reduced. Given the carbon cost and the initial energy expended to manufacture steel and concrete are they less expensive compared to the cost of wood if those materials can be recycled and wood cannot over time?
The question is "Is the race to use wood good"?
Arthur Hall Adams/ARCHITECT/AIA/LEED AP
PO Box 1166
309 Davisville Road
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania 19090
P Please consider the environment before printing this email
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