|Wood has been used as a building material for thousands of years, being second only to stone in terms of its rich and storied history in the world of construction. The chemical properties of wood are inherently complex, but even in spite of this challenge, human beings have successfully harnessed the unique characteristics of wood to build a seemingly unlimited variety of structures. This exceptionally versatile material is commonly used to build houses, shelters and boats, but it is also extensively used in the furniture and home decor industry as well.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of using wood as a building material is that it is a natural resource, making it readily available and economically feasible. It is remarkably strong in relation to its weight, and it provides good insulation from the cold. Wood is highly machinable, and can be fabricated into all kinds of shapes and sizes to fit practically any construction need. Wood is also the perfect example of an environmentally sustainable product; it is biodegradable and renewable, and carries the lowest carbon footprint of any comparable building material. In addition, no high-energy fossil fuels are required to produce wood, unlike other common building materials such as brick, steel or plastic. |
LUMBER OR TIMBER?
The words “lumber” and “timber” are often used interchangeably to refer to wood used in construction work, but there has been considerable debate as to which term should apply in a given scenario. Pieces of wood that are smaller than 5 inches wide by 5 inches thick (regardless of length) are generally referred to as lumber. These pieces are machine-planed and sawn to fit certain dimensional specifications (e.g., 2×4″, 2×8″, etc.) and are primarily used in residential construction. Pieces of wood over 5 inches wide by 5 inches thick (regardless of length) are referred to as timber, and any timber pieces that exceed 8″ wide by 8″ thick are referred to as beams. As timber pieces are larger in dimension, they are often used to construct the frames of large structures such as buildings and bridges. Timber is also commonly utilized in large quantities for railroad ties, mine shaft supports and crossbeams on utility poles.
Another type of wood commonly used in construction is known as engineered wood. As its name implies, engineered wood is the product of a more intricate fabrication process in which various wood strands, fibers, veneers, or other forms of wood are glued together to form a type of composite material that is used for specific construction applications. Common examples of engineered wood include plywood, glued laminated timber (a.k.a. “glulam”), oriented strand board, fiberboard, and particle board. Engineered wood products are commonly used in a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial construction projects.
TYPES OF WOOD
Wood has traditionally been classified into two primary categories: Hardwood (any leaf-bearing tree) and softwood (any cone-bearing tree). As with most other general classifications, this can get somewhat confusing due to the fact that there are some leaf-bearing trees that can have relatively soft wood, while some coniferous trees that can have rather hard wood. Generally speaking, however, hardwoods are by and large considered to be heavier and more dense than softwoods. Hardwoods are commonly used in the construction of walls, ceilings and floors, while softwoods are often used to make doors, furniture and window frames. Some examples of the most popular hardwoods include oak, maple, mahogany, cherry, walnut, and teak. Commonly used softwoods include pine, hickory, beach, ash, birch, and cedar.
The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) of America has created a grading system to rate various types of lumber, primarily based on the amount of defects that can be found in a board. Below is a brief summary of NHLA grades for both hardwood and softwood lumber.
1. First and Seconds (FAS) – This is the highest grade possible for hardwood lumber, and is mainly suited for high-quality furnishings, solid wood mouldings and interior joinery. Contains 83% usable material on one face (minimum 6″ x 8″ board size).
2. Select (Sel) – Also contains 83% usable material, but for a smaller minimum board size (4″ x 6″) than FAS.
3. #1 Common (#1 Com) – Contains 66% usable material on a 3″ x 4″ board face.
4. #2 Common (#2 Com) – Contains 50% usable material on a 3″ x 4″ board face.
1. C Select – Almost completely free of all defects; commonly used for cabinets and interior trim
2. D Select – Comparable to C Select, but may contain small knots (no bigger than the size of a dime)
3. 1 Common – Contains small, tight knots that won’t fall out; offers a high-quality knotty appearance (e.g., pine)
4. 2 Common – Very similar to 1 Common, but with slightly larger knots; often used in shelving and paneling
5. 3 Common – Larger knots that what are found in 2 Common; typically used for crates, boxes and fences
BENEFITS OF WOOD IN CONSTRUCTION
Wood carries several benefits that make it an excellent candidate for use in a wide array of construction projects. One such benefit is its thermal properties, which give it an advantage in terms of its resistance to high temperatures. Unlike steel, which can expand or even collapse in high heat, wood actually dries out and becomes stronger as the heat increases. In addition, the heat conductivity of wood is relatively low in comparison to other materials such as aluminum, marble, steel, or glass. This gives wood an advantage in terms of being used in various applications such as matches, hardware equipment handles, wall coverings, and ceilings.
Wood also contains highly-sought-after acoustic properties. It can absorb sound and echoes, and is a favorite material of choice for the construction of structures where proper acoustics is important, such as concert halls. Wood is resistant to electrical currents, making it an optimal material for electrical insulation. Another important characteristic of wood is its tensile strength, which is its ability to bend under pressure without breaking. Wood is exceptionally light in proportion to its tensile strength, making it the preferred construction choice for surfaces that take a constant beating such as basketball courts and bowling lanes. Tensile strength is also one of the main reasons for choosing timber as a building material; its remarkably strong qualities make it the perfect choice for heavy-duty building materials such as structural beams.
Of the many construction materials that a person can choose from, wood stands out as a unique and amazingly versatile product. Its aesthetic appeal, tensile strength, insulation qualities, and ease of fabrication enable it to remain a favorite choice for use in an extensive array of construction applications.
Building costs are high and affordable housing is a challenge in many areas of our cities and towns. For obvious reasons, inexpensive construction by means of cheap labour and inexpensive materials are often the chosen path. However, those days are quickly disappearing, being replaced with green builds and an eye to a more affordable and energy efficient lifestyle; builds assembled with sustainably-sourced, toxin-free materials, designed for reduced energy consumption in both use and during construction.
This style of advanced construction follows an assessment for building design and construction. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification program that awards four levels of certification based on a point system. Points are bestowed for energy efficiency, water usage, air quality, and building materials used, in addition for environmental factors, like access to public transportation and responsible land use.
Thankfully, there are increasingly more contractors, architects, and companies getting on board with LEED certification and all the benefits extended to both the company and the individual.
REASONS WHY LEED CERTIFICATION IS IMPORTANT
- Pollutants in an unhealthy building, possibly made with toxic materials or made with inadequate ventilation, cause all kinds of respiratory illness and consequently, employee absenteeism. LEED certification standards establish minimum indoor air quality (IAQ) performance. A healthy workplace thereby promotes healthy productivity and well-being of employees.
- Another element of a LEED certified build is the use of natural light. Workers are exposed to more natural daylight which makes them more effective and improves quality of sleep at night. It also provides an attractive, bright place to function.
- Tenants benefit from reduced living expenses when they invest in a LEED certified build. Savings are achieved through reduced energy and water costs, as well as reduced water and energy consumption with energy efficient appliances.
- A LEED certified build retains a higher property value over time than one without.
- Tax credits may be available in certain cases.
- LEED builds are made with natural, sustainable building material, such as the untreated, completely biodegradable Cedar available from Longhouse.
Individual well-being is rapidly becoming more important than blind over-production and work demands. Productivity improves in a healthy work atmosphere and home environment. Individuals today want to know how their company is contributing to a healthier, more sustainable future because he or she seeks the same goal.
Indeed, certain architects believe LEED certification is essential for modern builds. Environmentally conscious millennials are eager to not only live in sustainable homes, but also want to work for corporations who’ve adopted green initiatives and committed to LEED certified buildings. Longhouse continues to be involved and supportive of LEED certified projects worldwide and we remain passionate on persisting our journey on the higher road.
Here on the West Coast of British Columbia, and indeed worldwide, sustainability and environmental protection are top of mind with eco-conscious builders and homeowners. Certainly, many of us strive to protect the beauty of our precious environment while pursuing innovative ways to live greener every day of our lives.
Builders and homeowners embrace a greener way of living by supporting the construction of Net Zero Energy homes. These homes are the pinnacle of energy efficiency, designed and constructed to produce as much energy as it consumes annually.
What is Net Zero?
The definition of a Zero Energy Building or Zero Net Energy Building is a structure with zero net energy consumption. In other words, the total amount of energy used by the building each year approximately equals the amount of renewable energy created on site. Consequently, these types of buildings generate a smaller amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than traditional builds.
MIKE HOLMES: “Net-zero homes produce as much energy as they consume. Given rising energy costs these homes are becoming increasingly more popular.”
Photo Credit: Joern Rohde, RDC Fine Homes
A further definition, according to Mike Holmes of HGTV online, “A Net Zero home produces its own energy locally and should aim to produce at least as much energy as it consumes. EnerGuide rates the energy performance of the home; the higher the rating, the more efficient the home. The lower the EnerGuide number the better energy performance of the home is. In order for a home to be completely Net Zero, it will most likely need to incorporate solar power or utilize some form of renewable energy source.”
Concerned individuals choose a net zero home build because they’re up to 80% more energy efficient than typical new home builds. They produce as much clean energy as they consume. All this plus a more comfortable living space and reduced future energy costs for the homeowner.
The features that enable a Net Zero Energy Home to do what it does comprises sourcing passive heat from the sun, using air-sourced and ground-sourced heat pumps, as well as the installation of solar panels.
There are further benefits to living in a Net Zero Home:
- All home features work together to minimize the household’s environmental footprint.
- Comes equipped with water-saving fixtures and appliances.
- Produces as much clean, renewable energy as the structure consumes.
- Empowers homeowners to help protect against climate change and preserve our natural resources.
- Provides a quiet, peaceful living atmosphere due to superior insulation.
- Provides clean fresh air indoors via a filtration system that reduces allergens and other air pollutants for a healthier living environment.
- Delivers outstanding year-round comfort with advanced construction methods and materials, in addition to heating, cooling, and ventilation systems that maintain comfortable, consistent temperatures everywhere in the home.
- Offers durability with high-performance windows, superior insulation in walls and roofs, all built to higher standards than conventional homes.
- Protects the homeowner from future increases in energy prices.
- Generates minimal year-round utility bills.
- Built with an advanced foundation system with superior insulation qualities.
Why Choose Net Zero?
Net Zero Houses are important to us for several reasons. For one, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation describes a substantial rebate on your mortgage insurance premium when you invest in a Net Zero Energy Home. Furthermore, they’re not limited to new builds, although it takes some planning, renovating an old home to a net-zero home is possible and the energy savings are worth the effort.
In order to build a net zero home, the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) has a labelling program to guide consumers. They are also a rich source of information to help plan a net zero build.
Longhouse has long been a supporter and partner in a number of sustainable building projects. We are proud to support these types of endeavours and believe they’re a mainstay of our future. If you’re searching for a more efficient, sustainable way of living, a net zero home is a sensible choice.