Log Homes and Timber Frame Homes may have the lowest carbon footprint of any other type of construction. A carbon footprint is the measurement of carbon dioxide released as a result of using a particular product or other human activity. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere and major contributor to global warming.
A report prepared by the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management (ECCM) compared the carbon dioxide footprints of three structures and the benefits when more timber was introduced into the construction. The results were astounding. ECCM estimated that there could be up to an 88% reduction of greenhouse gases by using log or timber structural elements wherever possible rather than other conventional building materials. The reduction of greenhouse gases was achieved by replacing materials high energy, high CO2 production values, such as steel and concrete, with solid wood. The report states that the production of steel and concrete materials accounts for 10% of the total global emissions of greenhouse gases. These materials have a high CO2 output created during the extraction of raw materials, refining, processing and manufacturing of the finished product. As reported in a study published by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, the energy consumed to process a tree into a finished sawn timber is about one-tenth of steel production.
In another report prepared by The Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) compared four different structure using different wall systems – two woods, one concrete and one steel. The report found that the steel wall system generated 33% more greenhouses gases than wood and the concrete wall generated 80% more greenhouse gases than wood. The study also reported that the wood structures out-performed the steel and concrete houses in energy use and the impact on air and water quality.
Wood walls are typically framed or solid. Conventionally framed walls use a combination a several materials including processed wood products such as plywood or other laminated wood products, fiberglass insulation, exterior siding, interior sheetrock and some type of wall covering. Solid wood walls using logs or timbers have basically one product – the log or timber. The energy consumed and the CO2 produced in the production of logs and timbers is a fraction compared to the production of all the various materials in a conventionally framed wall.
Consumers are much more aware the environmental impact of using different materials and are being increasing sensitive to the hazards of exposure to chemically processed materials. Logs and timbers are 100% natural. As a natural product, they do not emit VOCs or other pollutants into the outdoor or indoor space. Trees are produced from soil, water and air combined with the energy from the sun, in a miraculous process of photosynthesis. Ecologically and environmentally, solid wood is the only building product that is renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, energy efficient and extremely beautiful.
Sustained and plantation forest growth actually reduces greenhouse gases by consuming CO2 out of the atmosphere while the trees are growing. Political pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, is sure to continue and it will become increasingly important to find solution. The use of solid wood construction such as log homes and timber homes can make a positive contribution.