Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Little Riff on Wood

A lot of people ask me - "Hey Kevin, what do you know about wood? " I smile a knowing smile and nod my head slightly. "Not enough" I say. But here are some interesting things to know about the wood that we've used on the framing and structure of our house.

Now, a lot of folks feel that too much wood is used in the construction industry. And that's true, generally. Wood shrinks, swells, twists, pops, absorbs moisture, is a food source for insects, is flammable and isn't always the best choice for a building material. Wood has the benefit of sequestering carbon, is renewable, readily available (in the Midwest), pretty forgiving and when used thoughtfully and appropriately, a fine material to use in construction. We considered (and if we were located in the South we'd probably use) metal studs. We also considered using Structural Insulated Panels and Insulated Concrete Forms, but each of those systems proved to be not quite right for our remodeling. So, we went back to good old wood. It's simple. Everyone understands it.

We've taken great care to reduce the amount of lumber used in the construction of our house by the following actions:

  • Use of engineered wood products (trusses, beams, sheathing) to take the place of dimensional lumber wherever possible. This reduces the amount of virgin material required as the products can be made from reclaimed scrap and smaller pieces of wood.

  • Alignment of Trusses and Wall studs. (This aligns structural loading so that post sizes and walls needn't be oversized to distribute loads - meaning less material is used)

  • Non-load bearing walls have studs spaced at 24" on center instead of 16" on center, and the elimination of headers at openings in all non-load bearing walls. (Again, this means less material is used)

We've also committed to using FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and SmartWood wood products wherever possible on the project. All framing lumber, sheathing and decking on the house is certified wood product. The exception to this rule are the trusses (couldn't get the trusses with an FSC chain of custody #) and some of the roof decking (our supplier, Certified Wood Products - tragically ran out of FSC plywood decking and we had to buy the regular stuff as we were a few pieces short.).

It's important for us to use FSC and SmartWood products because the wood and forests it grows in is sustainably managed and harvested. The carpenters liked working with it because it was of very high quality, straight, true and dense. It cut and nailed and screwed just the same as normal wood because it IS normal wood - but better. I like it because it's environmentally responsible and it costs the same as the usual stuff you might otherwise buy. We're fortunate here in the Midwest because over 50% of the FSC Certified Forests are located in the Upper Midwest - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan. So, that means that the wood products are local and (usually) readily available.,

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