Photo Credit: California Redwood Association

Durability is the ability of a building or any of its components to perform the required functions in a service environment over time without unforeseen cost for maintenance or repair.

Using durable materials like wood in tandem with an appropriate envelope design can result reduced-cost maintenance and repairs later in a building’s life.

There are many applications where the natural durability properties of wood make it the material of choice. For example, wood is resistant to high relative humidity and to many of the chemicals and conditions that adversely affect steel and concrete, such as corrosive salts, dilute acids, industrial stack gases and sea air. Because of its resistance to these factors, building professionals often use wood for specific non-residential structural applications such as cooling towers and industrial buildings used for chemical storage.

With proper design and maintenance, wood structures can provide long and useful service lives equivalent to other building materials.

Extensive research has led to a number of proven strategies for ensuring that wood material reaches its full potential for longevity.

The key is careful planning and understanding the environmental loads and other external factors likely to impact a building over its lifetime. This involves four main methods of control:

  • Air and moisture control
  • Control of insects and other living organisms
  • Use of durable materials
  • Quality assurance

While durability is crucial to the design of any structure, designers should be aware that many buildings are demolished before the end of their useful service lives.

A survey of buildings demolished between 2000 and 2003 in Minneapolis/St. Paul demonstrated that buildings in North America often fail to make the 50-year mark, regardless of material, because of changing needs and increasing land values as opposed to performance issues. Overall, wood buildings in the study had the longest life spans, showing that wood structural systems are fully capable of meeting a building’s longevity expectations.

Designing for Durability CEU

Get more strategies for achieving maximum durability with wood-frame and mass timber construction; take our Designing for Durability CEU.

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