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Building with Wood Could Sequester Carbon, Produce Fewer Emissions Than Concrete

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Building with wood is making a comeback, and is included in Drawdown’s list of “coming attractions” as a decarbonization option that hasn’t yet hit the mainstream, but could be a part of a wider set of post-carbon solutions by 2050.

Wood had gradually been overtaken by steel and concrete, but is now becoming increasingly popular as a building material to replace concrete, Drawdown states. One panel technology, cross-laminated timber (CLT), has been called the “new concrete”, known not only for its strength but for being long-lasting.

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According to research findings cited by Drawdown, building with wood produces two main climate benefits. Using wood as a building material promotes the growth of trees which sequester carbon, and continue to do so after the wood is used as a construction material. And growing wood components for buildings produces fewer carbon emissions than the alternatives.

After that, “when a wood building comes to the end of its life, its component parts can find new life in other buildings, be composted, or be used as fuel,” Drawdown notes. If the components are reused, the carbon continues to be stored and prevented from entering the atmosphere.

There are still many challenges to making wood construction a mainstream practice. Drawdown says perception might be the biggest of all. But competitions like the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize help promote wood as a viable building material.

Regulations are a concern, as well, given that “many building codes limit the use of wood to four, maybe five stories,” Drawdown states. That points to the need for regulations to catch up and promote innovation in building technology, rather than hindering it.

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