Determining the true cost of a building material requires evaluating the product over its life cycle and taking into account its environmental as well as monetary costs. By these measures, wood frequently offers significant overall efficiencies over comparable materials such as concrete and steel.
WREN in Los Angeles is a 515,700-sf project with five stories of wood-frame construction over two levels of concrete. Wood was chosen for its cost competitiveness and speed of construction. Photo: Kevin Korczyk
Building with wood is fast and efficient, and can be undertaken year-round. It’s also a strong solution for quick-turn design-build firms and for projects in tight, urban job sites where it’s difficult to arrange concrete delivery and mixing or steel fabrication.
Brock Commons Tallwood House | Photo: KKLaw; Prefabricated panels aid in a project’s efficiency.
For example, as a structural building material, mass timber components can be prefabricated off site and delivered quickly. This can significantly reduce a worksite footprint and significantly improve construction times.
The best way to evaluate wood’s inherent efficiencies is to look at it through the lens of both project savings and environmental advantages.
- Supply Chain Improvements: Wood can often be sourced locally and delivered quickly, so it’s cost-competitive with alternative materials like concrete or steel.
- Foundation Cost Savings: Wood’s light weight can reduce foundation requirements—and therefore reduces foundation costs.
- Improving Installation Speed and Timelines: Wood building systems typically cost less to install than other mainstream structural materials.
- Labor Availability: Experienced wood contractors are widely available, and workers of varying skill levels can quickly learn wood construction techniques.
- Reduced Embodied Energy: Measured over its lifetime—from material harvest through manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling—wood requires less energy and produces less carbon than concrete.
- Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Global life cycle assessment studies have shown that wood construction can offer lower greenhouse gas emissions, less air and water pollution, lower volumes of solid waste and less ecological resource use than other materials.
- Sustainability Certification: Wood can make it easier to attain third-party certification for your project, improving its value and marketability.