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Wood is the greenest building material, USDA says

October 3, 2011 |  8:00 am

WoodframehouseA report from the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday found that using wood in building products yielded fewer greenhouse gases than other common building materials, such as concrete and steel. According to the report, which analyzed dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies, 2.1 tons of greenhouse gases were saved for each ton of carbon in wood products versus non-wood materials.

"This study confirms what many environmental scientists have been saying for years," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Wood should be a major component of American building and energy design. The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits, provides incentives for private landowners to maintain forest land, and provides a critical source of jobs in rural America."

According to the USDA, the use of forest products in the U.S. contributes more than $100 billion to gross domestic product and supports more than 1 million jobs in the country. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service report found that developing wood products from small-diameter trees, dead trees and brush provides revenue to land managers to treat ecosystems damaged by fire and invasive species, helping to promote a healthful environment and a strong economy.

"The argument that somehow non-wood construction materials are ultimately better for carbon emissions than wood products is not supported by our research," said David Cleaves, the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Advisor. "Trees removed in an environmentally responsible way allow forests to continue to sequester carbon through new forest growth. Wood products continue to benefit the environment by storing carbon long after the building has been constructed."

Over 100 years, the report said, net greenhouse gas emissions of wood-based homes was 20% to 50% lower than for homes built with concrete or steel.

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The greenest house in L.A.? 

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A construction worker cuts a piece of wood on the top of a home under construction in Petaluma. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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