Defending Wood Framing

Once again, EBN has published a thorough and thought-provoking article. The article on steel and wood framing brought out many of the key points, and serves well to advance the discussion. As a wood guy, I have four items, coming out of the article, upon which I would like to comment.

My first comment has to do with pressure-treated lumber and the degree to which the article brings it into the discussion. As is noted, there are climates in which insect activity encourages the use of P.T. for rough framing. However, in most of the continental U.S. and Canada, the amount of pressure-treated lumber used in the framing of an average residence is minor and is restricted to uses such as sill plates. In an apples-to-apples comparison of steel and wood framing, P.T. should not have much of a role. Also, in your previous discussion on this subject (EBN

Vol. 2, No. 1), you concluded that “properly fixed CCA-treated lumber is not the health hazard some would lead us to believe.” In this article, you seem to be reconsidering that conclusion.

Second, on lumber recycling—there are several bona-fide efforts at reusing woody construction waste and demolition debris, as the waste control industry evolves away from simple disposal and towards more complete use of our resources. Also, unlike in the past, the timber supply issues are making recycled wood fiber cost-competitive with virgin wood in some markets. So lumber recycling is moving closer to widespread reality.

However, as much of the recovered wood fiber, particularly from the demolition waste stream and particularly in the eastern U.S., is sold for use as fuel in commercial boilers, there are those who do not consider this lumber to be recycled. To me, this is a semantic discussion that misses an important point—waste wood has demonstrated value as a renewable energy source that can be used to displace nonrenewable forms of energy. Similarly, in many sawmills which run dry kilns, the source of the heat is mill residues—bark, wood scraps and sawdust, as the article points out. In other words, these kilns are running off of a renewable source of energy, unlike other manufacturing operations which are dependent on fossil fuels or nuclear power. The lumber industry deserves credit for this.

Third, the article just skims the resource issues. That’s appropriate, as those issues are generally much too complex to be captured in just a few short paragraphs. However, the article did include a quote, attributed to Wayne Trusty—“You can renew trees, but not forests.” This is a very disturbing comment, which I hope has been taken out of context. Besides the obvious uncertainty as to what is meant by a forest (another semantic trap), this comment appears to be a denial of the basis for modern forestry and silviculture. If one cannot hope to produce desired intervention in forest processes, including planned harvests and regeneration, then there is not much hope for forest management of any sort, including the developing techniques associated with ecosystem management. Granted, the more complex the desired conditions, the more problematic the success of the effort. But Mr. Trusty’s quote, as used, seems to deny both the existence and the worthiness of this effort.

This brings up a fourth point. Why is it, when comments on forest resource issues are sought, the opinions most often cited are those of environmental certifiers, marketing types of all stripes, and various armchair philosophers? Noticeably absent, and apparently uninvited to the table, are representatives of the professional group most actively involved with those issues—the foresters themselves. This is not a trend I have noticed only in EBN—a broad spectrum of publications take this tack.

Again, this is a very worthwhile effort to touch on a fairly complex subject, in which a lot of subtleties, potentialities and local variations reside. I am sure that this is not the last time EBN will deal with this subject; I look forward to future treatments.

Chris Donnelly

Northford, CT

Author’s response:In the interest of “advancing the discussion,” as you put it, I’d like to respond to some of the important issues you raise:

1. While it’s true that preservative-treated lumber is not used for interior framing in most of the U.S. and Canada, the southern coastal and tropical areas where it is common are also the regions in which steel framing is most popular. The point is that if wood framing requires toxic treatments—either of the wood itself or of the surrounding soil—replacing that wood with steel becomes more attractive. Interestingly, the thermal insulation problems with steel framing are less significant in those same climates.

2. There are, as you say, notable efforts at wood recycling under way in many areas. Other than actual salvage of timbers, however, this recycling represents what has also been called “downcycling,” because the new products are of lesser value than the original use. Steel recycling is notable in that there is no such degradation of the material. The natural renewability of the wood resource is also a key factor, as I discussed in the article.

3. While only Mr. Trusty can explain his intention, I used his quote in the sense that individual trees can be removed and replaced without long-term negative consequences, but a damaged or destroyed forest can never be recreated in its

original form.

4. Your point about the lack of input from foresters is well taken. The same could be said about steel manufacturers, who were consulted about the logistics of their business but not its environmental impacts. While I’m sure managers in both industries have valuable perspectives and insights into these questions, it is hard to separate out such insights from the mass of propaganda that is distributed to defend each industry. Rather than highlighting the conflict by quoting diametrically opposed positions, I chose to devote more space to voices considered to be less biased. Industry positions are available to anyone who wishes to contact the respective associations listed at the end of the article.

Published September 1, 1994

(1994, September 1). Defending Wood Framing. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/defending-wood-framing

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