Materials In Action
Wood, concrete, and steel have an environmental impact on building construction operation and end of life
Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s Continuing Education article.
Learning Objectives - After reading this article, you will be able to:
- Evaluate the durability and versatility of wood, concrete, and steel.
- Explain how current building codes permit the extended use of wood.
- Articulate the importance of embodied and operating energy .
- Discuss a building material's end-of-life issues.
Credits: 1.00 HSW/SD
This course was approved by the GBCI for 1 GBCI CE hour(s) for LEED Credential Maintenance.
When an architect specifies a building material, that choice casts a long shadow. While most of the environmental effects from materials occur during the extraction and production phases, the building material influences a structure's environmental footprint well after, throughout the operations phase and beyond. What are the life cycle costs of the material? How durable is it? Is the material thermally efficient? Is it susceptible to moisture damage? Can it withstand seismic activity? What are the code considerations? Can it be recycled or reused, and at what cost to the environment? These are the kinds of questions that should be considered in the earliest project phases. The answers will determine, in part, a structure's sustainability quotient. This article will address, through research and facts, the differences between wood, steel, and concrete in terms of basic material properties as well as their performance during the building operations phase. Also discussed will be end of life issues, including the impacts of recycling versus reuse.
Prior to specifying a material, certain issues should be thoroughly investigated.
Good design and quality construction are important factors in a building's longevity, as is maintenance. "Any building of wood, concrete, or steel could last an indefinite period of time, provided there is proper maintenance," says Scott Lockyear, Technical Director for U.S. WoodWorks, an initiative of the Wood Products Council, which is a cooperative venture of all the major North American wood associations as well as research organizations and government agencies. "The critical thing is moisture control. Without it, concrete will spall, wood will decay, and steel will rust."
Exterior of Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, Washington, D.C. Hybrid wood, concrete, and steel structures are often good solutions in sustainable buildings.
Photo by Nic Lehoux courtesy of Bing Thom Architects