The Winter Park/Maitland Observer reported that the city of Maitland is looking into prohibiting wood-frame multi-family construction to improve the quality of the community. The American Wood Council, which is cited in the news report, submits that the only results of such an action would be increased construction costs and a decrease in the architectural beauty of Maitland’s multi-family and nonresidential structures. The citizens of Maitland would be hurt by such action and deserve better.
The article cited quality and durability as the issue. But a study by the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, a non-profit research collaborative applying life-cycle assessment to the construction sector, looked at the longevity of buildings and found that wood buildings were typically the oldest – the majority older than 75 years. In contrast, more than half the concrete buildings studied were demolished at the age of 26- to 50-years, and 80 percent of the steel buildings demolished were less than 50 years old. It is not the material of the structural frame that determines longevity of commercial buildings, but other factors such as changing community needs. Nor does it determine the aesthetic quality of the exterior of the building, something that is typically covered by zoning ordinances. Just stroll along South Orlando Avenue and contrast the types of commercial construction seen there. Can you tell which are wood-frame and which are concrete or steel?
Wood products, and in turn multi-family and nonresidential wood-framed structures, have much lower environmental impacts than fossil-fuel intensive construction products that will be substituted for it. Data on the overall superior environmental performance and reduced environmental impacts of wood construction, despite competing material claims to the contrary, are readily and voluminously available. Further, recent changes to energy codes for multi-family construction are forcing builders to abandon traditional framing methods and to consider the use of less resilient sheathing products.
Whether analyzed by life cycle cost or life cycle environmental impact, the data shows that wood construction outperforms competing materials. It does not make sense to prohibit use of wood construction when state-of-the-art building codes identify its safe, long-term, and resilient use – especially when the end result will mean more expensive housing for many Maitland residents.
— Robert W. Glowinski
President & CEO
American Wood Council