Wood Frames, Sea Levels Won’t Mix


American media rarely mention the climate consequences of industrial logging. I have researched and published on this subject, though it’s been a few years. Are you aware that the United States is responsible for 25 percent of global wood-product consumption? About one-third of that wood comes from Canada, including old growth in the boreal forest, courtesy of the Koch brothers’ subsidiaries.

About half of the wood used in the U.S. goes to buildings, mostly wood-frame housing. Very few other countries use wood for construction; Canada and Australia are the other outliers. The U.S. has destroyed more than 90 percent of its primary forests, and is on its way to doing that in Canada. An old-growth forest can contain more than 1,000 tons of wood per acre, versus about 150 tons for a tree farm. Tree farms are not sustainable, since they tend to fail after three or four “rotations.” That’s why they don’t clearcut softwoods in Europe.

We have one of the world’s highest death rates from fires, due to wood framing. After the Malibu, Oakland Hills and Santa Rosa fires, fire departments (that want to stay busy), architects and builders persuaded survivors to rebuild using wood.

American homes last 60 years on average. In countries that use masonry or reinforced concrete for homes, they last for centuries. This is a huge and hidden cost in the U.S. The increased financial throughput from constant rebuilding artificially inflates our standard of living. Some of the reasons are insect and rot degradation and fire. 

Logging in the U.S. and Canada accounts for more than 600 million tons of annual carbon-dioxide emissions. 

If we used steel, it would raise the price of construction about 2 percent (framing is only about 18 percent of home construction’s  hard costs). Builders would hate to pay it, and would have to retrain associated trades. Consumers can’t see the steel behind the drywall, and won’t pay a small premium, partly since the media have not educated them about wood’s flammability, fragility and environmental carnage.

Logging in North America is heavily subsidized in numerous ways. Replanting is a tax writeoff. Taxpayers pay for roads in national forests, and much else. 

I have built hundreds of homes with light-gauge steel, published many articles on the subject, testified before trade groups and two Congressional committees. The facts stated above can be referenced in scientific papers and government reports. 

There is even more reason to avoid wood framing in Alameda: When King Tides and sea-level rise arrive, wood framing will rot and deteriorate. Galvanized steel would remain unharmed. 

After Katrina, houses in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, still standing after the flood waters receded, had to be hauled away. 

Currently we are erecting wood-framed homes using (even worse) formaldehyde-laced wood.