The Advantages of Wood as a Building Material

Wood is both a common and a historical choice as a building material. Yet, in the past few decades there has been a move in favor of engineered products or metals like aluminum.

advantages of wood as a building material

While the desire to not rely on the world’s forests for building demands is well-intentioned, it isn’t as eco-conscious as you might think.

In fact, the advantages of wood as a building material still outweigh other products on the market when looking at environmental impact and performance.

Wood’s Characteristics

Tensile strength

Though wood is a lightweight building material, it outperforms even steel when it comes to breaking length (or self-support length). Simply put, it can support its own weight better, which allows for larger spaces and fewer necessary supports in some building designs.

Electrical and heat resistance

Wood has a natural resistance to electrical conduction when dried to standard moisture content levels, usually between 7%-12% for most wood species. This conductivity is, in fact, the basis for one type of moisture measurement system. Its strength and dimensions are also not significantly affected by heat. This provides stability to the finished building and safety implications for fire situations.

Sound absorption

Wood’s acoustic properties make it ideal for minimizing echo in living or office spaces. Wood absorbs sound, rather than reflecting or amplifying it. This can significantly reduce noise levels for additional comfort.

Beauty

Because there are a wide variety of species available, wood can suit many aesthetics. Different species can also provide varied mechanical, acoustic, and thermal properties.

Wood’s Green Advantage

We live in a time when ecological concerns are high. Because of this, the trend for a time was to move away from wood as a building material to prevent deforestation and manage greenhouse gasses.

But, a closer look at the reasons for this thinking can prove to be slightly off track. Wood has several advantages that help both the builder and the environment.

Wood is Renewable

Unlike concrete or metals, wood is a building material that can be grown and regrown through natural processes such as replanting and forestry management programs. Selective harvesting and other practices allow growth to continue while larger trees are harvested.

While the forests are growing (via solar energy), they are also naturally and efficiently removing carbon dioxide from the environment. It’s a bonus unique to wood.

Wood is Readily Processed for Use

When compared to building materials like steel or concrete, wood has a lower impact on the environment than its counterparts. As a result, it costs less to produce. Water waste and environmental impact is also lower in the wood manufacturing process, particularly when compared to steel.

Many lumber mills use wood byproducts (chips, bark, etc.) as bio-fuel for their facilities. This reduces the fossil fuel burden of the production process. Also, moisture measurement systems like Wagner’s In-Line Moisture Meters allow mills to maximize efficiency and produce less subgrade and waste materials in the drying process.

As forest management and replanting programs continue to grow, these benefits multiply.

Wood Emits Lower Volatile Organic Compounds

As a natural building material, wood emits lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide off-gasses than aluminum, steel, concrete and plastics. But, this is not true of engineered wood products or composite wood products.

Wood’s lower VOC impact is of particular benefit to homes and offices that are occupied on a daily basis. In fact, one of the things wood does give off is a natural organic compound that relaxes people. It’s not just the warmth of wood’s color that creates such an inviting effect.

Wood Enhances Energy Efficiency

Because of its natural cellular structure, wood has a higher insulation rating than both steel and plastic. This means that homes and buildings require less energy to maintain heating and cooling. Plus wood can help regulate humidity levels to a small degree. It has been suggested that a hardwood floor installed over a wood subfloor provides the same insulation value as a 22-inch concrete floor.

Wood is Biodegradable

One of the biggest challenges of many building materials, including concrete, metal, and plastics, is that when they are discarded, they take an impossibly long time to decompose. When exposed to natural climate conditions, wood will break down much more quickly and actually replenish the soil in the process.

On the flip side, understanding the role of moisture and wood rot means that in optimum conditions, the lifespan of a building or floor can easily outlive the lifespan of a tree!

Optimizing Wood’s Use with Moisture Content Measurement

One of the most important elements for maximizing wood’s performance over time is having an accurate understanding of wood’s interaction with moisture.

The first step in preventing moisture-related damage in wood floors and other wood-based building materials is bringing each product to the correct moisture content level.

This process begins at the sawmill kilns and carries on through to each finished building application. At each step, it’s necessary for accurate moisture content measurement to determine the wood’s final performance.

Why the focus on moisture content?

Wood is a hygroscopic material. It naturally adjusts to the humidity in the air around it. In other words, it’s always finding a balance between its internal moisture content and the ambient conditions.

On the job site, wood needs to be in balance with its environment, a state referred to as equilibrium moisture content or EMC. If builders or flooring installers begin the project before wood has adjusted to the relative humidity, they run the risk of the wood warping, twisting, splitting, or having significant gaps or buckling.

The right tool for monitoring wood moisture content (MC) is a wood moisture meter.

Pin-style moisture meters work in conjunction with the electrical resistance properties of wood by measuring a precise area between the tips of two metal probes or “pins” inserted into the wood. Pinless moisture meters have the advantage of measuring moisture content along an entire length of board without causing repeated damage to the wood’s surface.

Here at Wsri.org , our pinless moisture meters are designed with IntelliSense™ Technology. This means MC readings are not as susceptible to surface moisture or temperature, and can “scan” wood for moisture content at a uniform depth without surface damage. The meters provide easy-to-use, accurate moisture content measurement.

Overall, wood has some “built-in” advantages. It has both environmental and aesthetic appeal. With the right application of wood moisture content management, wood can keep those properties for generations.