33 Wood is Sustainable, Energy Efficient & Strong

Wood structures are easily renewable forever, therefore are sustainable.  They are are inherently energy efficient.  These are just a couple of the reasons the HOME ARCHITECTS PLLC firm typically defaults to a wood structure.

Recently, Rand Soellner, AIA/NCARB was taking a CEU (Continuing Education Unit) course for his yearly architectural license requirements, and this one was called: “Wood Scores A+ in School Construction.”  While it has been a while since Rand created one of his award-winning school designs (for which his work received an AIA Design Award of Excellence), he does continue to use wood structural systems for much of his custom residential design work.

For one of the larger projects in this course of study (a 320,500 square foot project) used 153,140 cubic feet of lumber, wood panels and engineered wood to build it.  The USA + Canadian Forests can currently grow this much wood in 13 minutes.  That is a huge renewability factor, and one of the reasons that America was colonized at such a swift rate: there was and still remains ample construction material, growing all around us.  Thankfully, our nation’s wood mills have been responsibly managing this resource for decades, to insure that there continues to be huge supply, indefinitely.

Here are some other facts about wood used in construction projects (using the 320,500 square foot project cited above as the baseline):

CARBON STORED IN THE WOOD: 3,660 metric tons of CO2.
TOTAL POTENTIAL CARBON BENEFIT: 11,440 metric tons of CO2.
this is equivalent to (per US EPA):
2,100 automobiles off the road for a year.
Energy to operate a home for 970 years.


When compared with large-scale projects (45,000 square feet), wood cost about 16% less than a non-wood project.  However, Rand Soellner’s own information about such matters indicates that wood is substantially less expensive than other types of construction for small to large custom homes (1,000 HSF to 8,000 HSF(Heated Square Feet)).

Soellner noticed a new home being built next door to him.  The wood structure of the house was erected in about 3 weeks.  This is a 2-story house (includes a full basement as the lower level), with full width front porch and full width rear porch on each of the 2 levels.  It took about another month for the roofing, siding, guardrails, posts, doors and windows to be installed.  This is pretty swift construction in anyone’s book.

Even wood schools these days are being made out of wood, in part due to their capability to resist earthquakes.  This is in part due to their multiple nailed joints, making them inherently more ductile than construction systems with more rigid connections (that may be more brittle and fracture during an earth-moving event).  Multiple load paths in wood construction also help them resist seismic forces.  Numerous steel connectors such as Hold-Downs and Horizontal OSB shear wall panels also help to resist lateral movement and brace a wood structure.  HOME ARCHITECT PLLC projects have been receiving these lateral and vertical force features for years.  They exceed minimum code, but our environment is changing and this architectural firm wants their projects to be as safe as they reasonably can.

Rand Soellner lived through Hurricane Andrew in Miami; he helped manage an architectural firm based there and in other high-wind climates.  He learned that simple, long steel straps that attached to wall studs, top wall plates, over the sides and tops of structural members like beams, joists and roof trusses, helped them to stay in place during high wind loads.  What happened in many of the failed structured in Miami was that contractors had simply toe-nailed roof structure to the wall top plate, or used very small “hurricane ‘clips’ “.  This simply wasn’t enough steel to secure the roof to the walls of the house.  When the hurricane passed overhead, the suction forces literally pulled the roof off the house, because the nails were jerked right out of the wood.  Soellner uses long 18 gauge galvanized steel straps, typically two or three feet long, that have a couple of dozen ring shank nails securing them to the roof trusses and wall.  When high winds attempt to pull the roof structure off, all of these nails are put into nearly pure shear stress, and there are so many connectors that the likelihood of all of them tearing in two is not probable.  Also, the ring shank on Soellner specified nails cannot be pulled out of wood.  The heads of these nails will pull off before the shaft can be extracted from wood.  They are much like screws in their pull-out strength.  And the heavy gage steel hold downs help Soellner’s houses resist both earthquake and vertical pull-out forces.  A galvanized steel threaded rod is attached to the Hold Down, which is bolted to stud-packs through the wooden structure, and the threaded rods go all the way down into the concrete foundation of the house.  To suck the wood studpacks out of the house, the wind forces would need to literally shatter the studs (which could happen in certain circumstances with very high winds, but is not very likely in most situations), in order to extract them from the hold downs, or pull the foundations themselves up out of the ground (again, not likely).   So, wood again ranks high for strength.

Wood stud and roof construction do not conduct as much heat and cool through their bodies as steel, concrete and many other denser construction materials.  This makes wood inherently more energy efficient.

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