What do disinfecting wipes, LCD screens, Rayon and toothpaste have in common with homes?
All use wood products. Highly sustainable, good for the earth, wood products.
The Guys have claimed for many years the housing industry was “green” long before it was fashionable.
“Green” is supposed to indicate, in its purest terms, the life-cycle “cost” to planet Earth of creating and implementing the intended use of a product or material over time.
For example, creating a single battery has a very high relative “cost” in mining, manufacture, packaging, shipping, longevity, re-cycle-ability, etc. when compared to many of the building products we use.
Most of the materials used in housing are very low cost in this regard. One of the pricier materials in the initial mining and manufacture is the cement used in concrete and masonry. But cement tends to offset it’s initial “earth cost” with the longevity of the product and the fact it is recyclable.
Cement based products also allow us to minimize land use and impact by building taller buildings with ever smaller footprints.
If fact, most of the materials we use in housing have a potential “life” in first use of many decades or even centuries and can then be re-used in a second incarnation.
Gypsum, glass, bricks, steel, wood and copper all have long “lives” in their first use as building products and all can be re-cycled with relative ease when compared to many other materials.
One of the products we have long used for most of our housing is wood.
It takes the rough equivalent of 20 mature fir trees for every 1,000 square feet of building we construct, including garages. With the average new home consisting of around 2,600 square feet of living area and 500 square feet of garage, we are looking at 62 of those trees per house.
But trees are a great and renewable resource. We no longer cut first growth forests for housing wood product; we grow that lumber on tree farms. The industry no longer cuts down a 100-year-old redwood to build a wood deck on the back of a house.
In fact, there are more trees in the United States now than there were in 1950. Ironically, our most intense tree harvesting in the US was done between 1850 and 1900, when immigration rates were at their all-time highs. New citizens require new houses.
Keep in mind that trees are largely responsible for the oxygen we breathe and this country plants 2.5 trees for every one tree harvested. It is estimated there are 300 billion trees in this country! The US alone accounts for 8% of the world’s forest estate, the fourth-largest in the world.
The industry has developed wood product ranging from sheet goods like plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) to trim materials, decking and mulch, using scrap wood product that would have been burned or buried in years gone by.
Trees also absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide. A single tree can absorb one to several tons of CO2 every year depending on size and species. Compare that to a small electric car that creates a carbon footprint of more than 17 tons just by being built and is not easily recycled after it’s relatively short life span!
The Industry created guidelines years ago to help practitioners build more material efficient and energy-efficient buildings. Many of these became standards that evolved to code status and are now required.
This same industry has been experimenting for decades with straw bale homes, rammed earth homes, and soy building products. We are creating thermal insulation made of everything from mushrooms to seaweed to cellulose to denim. We are using bamboo to replace hardwoods in flooring and other applications.
We have passed codes requiring more energy efficient homes and we have created criteria for assessing the efficiency of products like doors and windows for greater conservation, comfort and longevity.
Many spray foams, paints, stains and sealers that used to be solvent based are now water or plant based.
When you compare the sweet industry on the basis of need, true life cycle cost both monetarily and from an “earth-cost” perspective and sustainability, we stack up against anyone. Green indeed!
For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at insideoutsideguys.com.