2015 Spring Scholarship Honorable Mention – Stefani Lee

American Pole and Timber offers a $500 scholarship to two students each semester. The topic for submissions changes each semester and information for the Fall 2015 scholarship can be found on the APT website. Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2015 with the winners being announced November 30, 2015.

Congratulations to Stephani Lee; her essay earned her an honorable mention from American Pole and Timber. We asked the question, “In what ways can the increased use of wood and wood-derived building materials in construction make the most positive impacts on the environment in next 35 years (by 2050)?”  The following is Stefani’s winning submission.

Within the next 35 years, positive impacts on the environment could be made if construction increased the use of wood and wood-derived such as using wood as the eco-friendly alternative. Of all the materials that could be used to build a home, wood uses the least amount of energy consumption and emits the least amount of CO2 into the environment. Wood also has thermal insulation properties, which makes timber frame houses use less energy. “As wood is created by photosynthesis, it can be considered an efficient way of storing solar energy. Recovering the energy from wood products at the end of their life, as a substitute for fossil fuels, increases wood’s positive carbon effect” (Premier Forest Products). Global warming has become a global issue and one of the ways it can be mediated from a construction standpoint is to use wood materials since they emit less toxins into the atmosphere, wood can be recycled and reused, and using wood products encourages expansion in forestry initiatives.

Nonprofit institutions such as the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Material has conducted research on “the use of wood as a renewable material” (CORRIM 8). Recently, CORRIM has conducted a research study that compared the amount of energy that would be exerted from concrete, steel and wood with an emphasis on using these materials for the main frame of houses. Research shows that for residential construction in Minneapolis, wood frames emit 651 GJ and steel frames emit 764 GJ, which is a 113 GJ difference. In addition, residential construction in Atlanta with a wood frame emit 398 GJ and concrete frames emit 461 GJ, which is a 63 GJ difference. “Results indicate that houses with wood-based wall systems require 15–16% less total energy for non-heating/cooling purposes than thermally comparable houses employing alternative steel- or concrete-based building systems” (CORRIM 1). The research that CORRIM has conducted shows the ecological advantages that wood frames have compared to concrete or steel frames because wood proves to emit less non-bioenergy (GJ). The numerous emissions that were linked to these materials are air, water and solid waste, thus being that concrete and steel emit so much of these waste is dangerous for the citizens of residential areas where these houses are being constructed. Emitting high levels of materials such as the ones stated could cause various health complications such as various breathing issues, heart problems and etc.

In addition, even though technological advances in construction productivity have progressed and have produced different cost efficient materials, the most energy efficient material so far is wood. Wood is a material that can be recycled and reused to maximize wood productivity. The main goal of most construction industries in this day and age, is to maximize the productivity of materials and minimize the amount of bioenergy that is emitted from the materials into our ecosystem. CORRIM has dedicated their mission to help research sustainable materials and “Minimizing the use of natural resources and maximizing the recycling potential are other important tasks to take into consideration” (Thormark, 1). Initially, the energy that was emitted from the materials in the Sweden experiment was 40%. But through extensive research and experimentation, the embodied energy being emitted was reduced to 17%. This showing that it is possible to reduce the amount of energy that materials emit through research and experimentation and with changing the amount of energy that is emitted from construction material, the effects the energy has on global warming are also being reduced one construction site at a time.

In comparison to alternative materials such as steel or concrete, with emphasis on greenhouse gas (GHG), wood is the better alternative because it has less SO2 and generates less waste. “Since 1850 atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 30% and every year we are adding a further burden of 3.3 billion tonnes of this ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere” (Premier Forest Products). The life-cycle of wood is becoming an issue due to the fact that it is not being taken seriously and the negative emissions that come from wood alternatives can cause more damage to the environment in the long-term. It is good that there are technological advances and materials being manufactured that could reduce the cost of building materials; however, if these materials cause a negative effect on the environment then they are not suitable to be used in building homes. When building a home, it is understandable to try to find a way to cut costs or find more cost efficient materials; but in comparison, wood materials are usually the cheapest to use and the most economically efficient. In studies committed, the common factor among all of the research is the competitive prices on wood and affordability. No longer can construction contractors say that wood is too expensive and that other materials should be used as an alternative, wood is within almost all budgets and can reduce the price of constructing a building.

With all the research provided and examples given, there are many different ways to make a positive impact on the environment within the next 35 years if wood and/or wood-derived materials are used in the construction of buildings. Wood materials emit less toxins into the environment and removes toxic emissions such as CO2 from the atmosphere to make breathing easier. Construction’s impact on global warming can become almost non-existent if wood materials are used instead of alternatives such as steel or concrete. Also, planting more forests will become a widespread initiative since wood will be in high demand and in order to satisfy the demand more trees will need to planted. Wood is the most eco-friendly and reportedly the most energy-efficient of all the construction materials available for use. In addition, it is cost efficient and more affordable in the construction of buildings. Therefore, it is possible to make a positive impact on the environment over the next 35 years if wood materials are being utilized instead of the leading non eco-friendly materials such as concrete, plastic or steel.




Work Cited

Upton, Brad, et al. “The greenhouse gas and energy impacts of using wood instead of alternatives in residential construction in the United States.” Biomass and Bioenergy 32.1 (2008): 1-10.

Petersen, Ann Kristin, and Birger Solberg. “Environmental and economic impacts of substitution between wood products and alternative materials: a review of micro-level analyses from Norway and Sweden.” Forest Policy and Economics 7.3 (2005): 249-259.

Morel, J. C., et al. “Building houses with local materials: means to drastically reduce the environmental impact of construction.” Building and Environment36.10 (2001): 1119-1126.

Lippke, Bruce, et al. “CORRIM: Life-cycle environmental performance of renewable building materials.” Forest Products Journal 54.6 (2004): 8-19.

Thormark, Catarina. “The effect of material choice on the total energy need and recycling potential of a building.” Building and Environment 41.8 (2006): 1019-1026.

“Wood and the Environment – Premier Forest Products.” Wood and the Environment – Premier Forest Products. Premier Forest Products. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.