Wood-frame homes are more environmentally friendly than those constructed of steel or concrete, according to a new study by 15 U.S. universities and research institutes.
Additionally, the researchers, known as the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, or CORRIM, concluded that most of the energy required to build an average home is consumed during the manufacture of building materials – not during actual construction.
“These are landmark findings,” said Kelly McCloskey, president and CEO of the Wood Promotion Network. “This offers a first-ever snapshot of how building materials impact our environment.”
Twenty-three independent researchers collaborated on the project, which used a process called life-cycle analysis to weigh the environmental impact of home construction. Life-cycle analysis gauges the energy required to produce building materials, as well as construct, maintain and demolish a typical home over a period of 75 years.
CORRIM compared the life cycles of two hypothetical homes in Minneapolis – one with a wood frame, the other with a steel frame – and the life cycles of one wood-frame and one concrete-frame home in Atlanta. The study determined that the construction of the Minneapolis steel-frame home used 17 percent more energy than the matching wood-frame home, and the Atlanta concrete-frame home used 16 percent more energy than a matching wood-frame home.
“Everything kind of flows from energy consumption,” said Bruce Lippke, professor of forest resources at the University of Washington and one of the researchers who helped conduct the study. “If you’re using energy, you’re polluting water, polluting air and kicking out carbon dioxide emissions.”
The study also concluded that the carbon emissions associated with energy use represent one of the more important environmental impacts. They estimated the global-warming potential of the steel-frame home to be 26 percent higher than the wood-frame home, and the concrete-frame home was 31 percent higher than the comparable wood-frame home.
“The use of wood products instead of steel or concrete can further reduce the greenhouse emissions from fossil fuels wherever lumber mills generate power and heat using bark, sawdust and other byproducts of milling,” said Lippke.
The report offers these additional suggestions on how to help reduce the energy demands of home construction:
* Redesign homes to use less fossil-fuel intensive products;
* Change building codes that promote excessive use of wood, steel and concrete;
* Recycle demolition wastes;
* Increase durability of homes through improved products and construction practices.
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