Lawrence Technological University hosted an event Tuesday on new, high-tech approaches to building with wood — a building material that’s been around since the dawn of humankind.
The seminar was sponsored by Lawrence Tech, the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council Detroit Regional Chapter and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.
Today’s wood products are more structurally sound, energy efficient, and by definition renewable and carbon neutral.
Aude Fournier of the Canadian Forest Service gave examples, including some from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, of engineered wood products that are stronger and more versatile than their predecessors, and which can be used in larger structures.
Ann Arbor architect Dan Jacobs, with a 30-year background in green building — from solar energy to green roofs to insulation — talked up the importance of forest certification.
He said the UN estimates that global deforestation continues at the rate of 100 million acres a year — not including forest “degradation,” or transformed into less than ideal ecosystems. The effect of the destruction of forests worldwide, he said, is more significant than the global transportation system.
He said only 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified as sustainable — 40 percent of that land in North America and 35 percent in Europe.
He said trees sequester carbon dioxide — and a 2,400-square-foot wood frame house actually holds 28.5 tons of CO2, equivalent to the emissions of a small car for seven years.
He said emerging science is backing wood through a full-term lifecycle analysis.
Forest certification, meanwhile, grew out of the initial 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero. After various government initiatives failed, a group of stakeholders decided to promote a private certification mechanism. Standards-setting organizations today include the Forest Stewardship Council, the Canadian Standard Association and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
He said there is frequent conflict between the various certification bodies but they have gradually been growing closer together.
Wayne Trusty, president of the Athena Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable buildings, noted that when it comes to green buildings, “how you perform is what matters, not how you got there.” He said there’s a lot of “greenwashing,” or fake environmental concern, and “performance slippage” of environmental systems over a building’s life.
He said eco-friendly materials need to be evaluated on a wide variety of criteria, including regional purchasing, pollution of the producer, pesticide use and insecticide use.
David Fell, a researcher at FPInnovations in Vancouver, British Columbia, described his research on the health effects of wood in the built environment. Fell’s Ph.D. work at the University of British Columbia found that the presence of wood led to lower stress levels in the nervous system.
Architects, builders and the general public all see wood as natural, healthy and calming, Fell said.
Fell also pointed out that research shows being outdoors leads to calm and less aggression — but modern North Americans spend 88 percent of their time indoors. The way to bring the outdoors indoors, Fell said, is with wood.
He presented several studies showing the calming effects of wood interiors on their occupants, and said there were various treatments to make wood fire-resistant and hard enough to use on institutional buildings.
Gary Williams, president of Timber Systems Ltd. of Markham, Ontario, closed the event by describing several of his company’s unusual wood projects, including a hospital, where building codes had earlier prohibited wood construction due to fire concerns. Other unusual — and gorgeous — installations include five-story hotels, swimming pools, athletic venues, even elevated rail stations.
More at www.drc-usgbc.org.