Can High-Performance Building Strategies Decrease Lumber Demand?

Housing Affordability

Lumber prices have soared because of supply-chain issues and other COVID-19-related challenges. Solving the lumber crisis is a critical priority for NAHB, particularly because of housing affordability implications. Potential solutions that use high-performance building strategies can reduce the amount of lumber needed to build a home and reduce the demand on the timber industry.

Sustainable timber has several elements that make it more environmentally friendly:

  • Harvesting: Trees must be cut down in a manner that protects the surrounding ecosystem by avoiding damage to local flora and fauna. Additional trees need to be planted to replace what was cut down.
  • Sourcing: Sustainable timber could be recycled or reclaimed. For example, many demolished buildings or dilapidated bridges still have useable wood that can be saved for other projects.
  • Byproducts: Sustainable timber considers what byproducts are made from the material and how are pollutants within the material are addressed.

One way to decipher how wood is harvested is to check if the material has been certified to a standard by an independent organization, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC). Home Innovation Research Labs also certifies green products (including wood and engineered wood products), and using those products can earn points toward the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) Green Certification.

Below are a few examples of practices within the 2020 NGBS that address issues related to sourcing, usage reduction, recycled content and pollutant minimization for wood products:

  • Chapter 6 Resource Efficiency - 2(1) "Structural systems are implemented that reduce and optimize material usage. Minimum structural member sizes necessary in accordance with advanced framing techniques." 3 points available for 601.2(1), 9 points max for 601.2.
  • Chapter 6 Resource Efficiency - 2(2) "At least 2 responsible or certified wood-based products are used as major components of the building." 4 points available.
  • Chapter 6 Resource Efficiency - 1 "Building materials with recycled content are used for two minor and/or two major components of the building." 1-6 points available.
  • Chapter 6 Resource Efficiency - 1.2.1 "A product with improved environmental impact measures compared to another product(s) intended for the same use is selected." 2 points for product with 4 impact measures; 3 points for product with 5 impact measures. 10 points max.
  • Chapter 6 Resource Efficiency - 1 "Regional materials are used for major and/or minor components of the building." 10 points max, 2 points awarded for each major component and 1 point awarded for each minor component.
  • Chapter 9 Indoor Environmental Quality - 4(1) "At least 85% of structural plywood used for floor, wall, and/or roof sheathing is compliant with DOC PS 1 and/or DOC PS 2. OSB used for floor, wall, and/or roof sheathing is compliant with DOC PS 2." Mandatory.

Strategies highlighted in the above NGBS practices can help to reduce the amount of wood used in a home — potentially alleviating some of the ongoing issues with supply constraints and material costs, while also emphasizing the importance of how building products are sourced.

To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, with tips on water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other building science strategies, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.

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