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Episode 19 – Wood is Good – A Resurgence in Design


Discover how you can green your life by building a knowledge base of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. This is Build Green Live Green.

In this episode, we will talk about how wood is making a comeback in the design space. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Kim Loftis of CaraGreen.

JESSICA: Hi this is Jessica.

KIM: Hi this is Kim.

JESSICA: We're here with Build Green Live Green, our next episode. We are covering the subject, “wood is good.”

KIM: Yes, this is going to be a good topic to cover. A lot of people think what they think about wood, whether it's good or bad. So, we'll talk about a little bit of both sides and some of our products that fit into that category.

JESSICA: Right, so, when we're talking about wood in this context we're really talking about it as a construction or a building material, and, you know, obviously you can see probably on your way driving here, there's a lot of construction going on and a lot of sheathing and two-by-fours, and high-rise buildings use a lot of wood kind of behind the scenes for the overall building structure. So, your choice really is wood construction or steel and concrete construction. Today we're going to look at some of the ways that using wood not only for the skeleton of the building but also for some of the interior and exterior finishes can be a positive, and what are the good features of wood that have allowed it to make a resurgence in the construction space.

KIM: Right, right, and I would say historically, too, you know, that's where construction started was building from wood and then we hit the Industrial Revolution and things kind of started going crazy with all the building and we had a lot of issues with the way wood was harvested. So, now we're getting back to, kind of, leveling out on that. I've definitely heard people, you know, on the side that maybe doesn't really care about sustainable forestry, that we have more trees now than we did a hundred years ago. So yes, that's a positive thing, but we still need to be responsible in the way that we're harvesting wood. So, we're kind of getting back towards that. LEED, the rating system for buildings put FSC, or Forest Stewardship Council, kind of on the map in some ways as far as requiring that certification for any wood products on their projects.

JESSICA: And I think we should clarify that a little bit. You talked about how there's more trees now, but a lot of that is because some of some sustainable initiatives that took place which required harvesting of trees to be done responsibly.  So, no clear cutting. I think a lot of that was done in like the Amazon Rainforest and in certain areas even here in the US, where giant swaths of land were just wiped out and indigenous people, animals were all fleeing from those areas. And it required a standard like the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, standard to be put in place for people that were harvesting or selling, effectively wood products to, you know, put some requirements in place, so that was being done in a sustainable way.

KIM: Exactly.

JESSICA: So even at CaraGreen, we do sell some FSC products and the important thing with the FSC requirements are that they pass all the way down the line. So, if there's a forestry company that's harvesting trees, that then gets sold to PaperStone to be made into, you know, sheets of PaperStone, you know, the paper-based product that's used in that. That goes all the way from the tree in the forest to being cut into lumber or pulped for use in the paper, which then goes into PaperStone and then we have to carry on that chain of custody all the way through. So, it manages the whole supply chain responsibly. So, you really have to adhere the standard all the way down the line.

KIM: Yeah, it's good to have those strict standards in place when there are issues like you mentioned like clear cutting, because that is still an issue. There's definitely an issue as well with illegal harvesting. It's not really monitored that well. So just being responsible, whether it's these certifications like FSC or SFI, there's other ways to be responsible as well, like making sure that you're not using, you know, woods that are illegal or that are endangered.

JESSICA: And SFI is Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

KIM: That's correct.

JESSICA: It's kind of a partner to FSC, but it seemed to be almost competitive to it at one point. Now they're both generally widely accepted. I thought the comment you made about there being more trees was interesting, because it's not about the number of trees really, tt's about the quantity of wood and we'll get into a little bit of what is in that wood that makes it such a desirable building material. But you know, it's some of the hardwoods that take so long to grow. A lot of these coveted woods takes so long to grow and then they're desired, so people cut them down, because they perform really well or they're very exotic. But they're very hard to replace. So, you might have, you know, 10,000 pine trees, quick growing, you know, pine trees. But you clear-cut eight million oaks. So, it doesn't really net out. So, it really has to do with, you know, kind of, not the quality of the wood, but what's in it. So, let's get into a little bit of the reasons why wood is good as a building material.

KIM: Sounds good.

JESSICA: So, I think, you know, we kind of set the stage that wood is making a comeback even in a lot of interior finishes. For that we mean things like flooring, feature walls, accent walls, ceilings.

KIM: Exterior cladding to some degree.

JESSICA: Right, and furniture. What is interesting about wood is it goes through photosynthesis. So, we all know about photosynthesis. It's basically turning carbon dioxide into oxygen using, you know, UV light as a catalyst and what happens though is the carbon in the carbon dioxide that's broken down is stored in the wood. So, over time as a tree is growing, half of its mass, its dry mass is actually sequestered carbon. So, carbon that it pulls out of the air. So, we know trees are good because they sequester carbon. But once you've got all that sequestered carbon what do you do with it?

KIM: And Jessica, do you know if faster growing trees or slower growing trees sequester more carbon?

JESSICA: The accepted standard is that one cubic meter and this is in European units, everyone except the US, one metric, one cubic meter of wood sequesters one metric tons of carbon. Which is a different measure than our ton, it's actually you know 2,200 pounds.

KIM: Yeah, okay gotcha. So, they're slower growing trees, again, that's even more reason not to cut them down, right, in the same amounts that we're cutting faster growing trees down. They're not going to have sequestered as much carbon as they could have over their lifetime.

JESSICA: So, what we're saying is yes more trees are good because they're sequestering more carbon. Basically 48 pounds per year is what a tree can sequester on average. So over 50 years one tree can sequester a US ton of carbon.

KIM: And we produce a lot of carbon, so we need the trees.

JESSICA: Yes exactly. But the point is, you know, if you're responsibly harvesting wood or the tree is falling down or whatever, in the case of construction materials, it's typically responsibly harvested. So, you've got to this point where you can use wood because you're replacing it with more or, you know, offsetting what you use. But the use of that wood is actually a physical use of that sequestered carbon. So, it's not just cut down and left there- you're building with it. So, you're taking sequestered carbon and you're putting it into the built environment. It's actually a very positive way to take a positive process and make it a productive element in the construction space.

KIM: So, sequestered carbon it's a great reason why wood is good. Another thing that we've seen becoming really popular is biophilic design, we've talked about it multiple times on our podcast. We have a podcast on biophilic design in general, the principles there. But there's a couple things within biophilic design that wood fits into and one is the visible wood grain, being able to see that wood grain, it reminds you of being outside, kind of slows you down. There's lots of good benefits to using wood in your design.

JESSICA: So, when you said slows you down, it reminded me that I wanted to have you back up. Can you, just for the listeners, kind of define biophilic design?

KIM: Yeah, so biophilic means that were drawn to nature. Humans are naturally drawn to nature. So, wanting to be outside, wanting to be around trees, nature in general, being able to see cloud movement, part of biophilic design. So, incorporating that part of design into your space and making it more enjoyable for the occupant.

JESSICA: Right, so given, you know, the desire to affiliate with nature, it makes so much sense that we're seeing this resurgence of wood for that reason, because wood reminds you of trees and so if you're in an urban setting where you're not going to have a lot of trees, having an office building or a restaurant that brings, you know, a lot of them have that tree growing right up through the middle of the restaurant, which is really neat, but you have visible wood grain. What else?

KIM: And then texture and pattern. So, if you have wood that is exposed that people are walking by, makes me think of Wonderwall, you have that beautiful texture to the material. Wonderwall is a reclaimed wood product that we sell for accent walls and it just has so many different colors and textures within the panels. That's really positive and then some of the pattern that you may see within those is also a visually positive thing to have in your space.

JESSICA: So, you mentioned Wonderwall and it being reclaimed, and I think that is yet another element of this whole pathway to wood, which is, you know, you've got trees sequestering carbon and then you're using this carbon in a useful way and then not only are you using it once, you're using it again. In the case of Wonderwall, where you're now, you know, using reclaimed wood. So, its useful life is even further extended and there are some beautiful feature walls made out of Wonderwall. You can see that on our website in the Wonderwall section of the website. Visible wood grain- that makes me think of Koskisen.

KIM: Yeah, Koskisen is a really beautiful product. It's a Finnish grade plywood, which is a really high-end plywood. Yes, Finland, the country.

JESSICA: Who by the way, has probably some of the strictest wood harvesting standards.

KIM: Yeah, I mean it's pretty much a given over there. So, they do have certification processes that they go through, but they're not as needed as they are in countries like the US, because we've developed some bad habits. But it's got a translucent layer of paint over top and then a translucent layer of a protective coating so you can see the natural wood grain through, both of those layers. So, it's, again, that visual connection to nature.

JESSICA: it's really pretty. It's got a lot of different colors, but they still allow the reveal of the natural grain beneath. So instead of some cheap cheesy plastic looking laminate on top with stinky VOC-laden glues you get Koskisen, Finnish-grade birch plywood, which is the highest grade plywood in its class with this nice color and natural wood grain.

KIM: And it can be used for cabinetry, millwork, tabletops. We see it a lot in retail design, we've seen a lot in kid’s spaces as well because of the bright colors that you mentioned, so really versatile product.

JESSICA: Yeah, and also one of the other brands is reSAWN. They have the charred wood and also some of the hardwoods for flooring and wall cladding. What about Bark House?

KIM: Yeah, Bark House is a really interesting one. It's one that's kind of near and dear to our hearts, because it's right here in North Carolina. They're based in Spruce Pine and they salvaged bark from trees that would be cut down anyway. So, they work with companies that use the tree, the main part of the tree for sometimes plywood, furniture, whatever they are using it for. Bark House salvages the bark off of the tree first before they take the log off to be, you know, milled into whatever they're using it for. So, they're basically saving the bark from either being burned or chipped up and they make it into these beautiful panels that are used for interior and exterior cladding.

JESSICA: So, I think those are really great products. They're all wood products. They're really great for feature walls. In the case of reSAWN, they have the flooring and they're great uses of wood in interior applications. What I've seen is some of soft wood products that maybe aren't useful in a long-life application are being modified so that they have these amazing warranties. So, let's talk quickly about some of the modified woods like Accoya and Kebony. They are pine-based woods that are chemically modified to be made much much stronger, much more durable. They're building bridges out of these things, they can be used underwater and they have these massive warranties associated with them.

KIM: Yeah, I mean they're used for really amazing projects and it's great because, like you mentioned, its pine and it's a faster growing tree and they grow really really tall. So, you can get a lot of lumber out of this tree itself and, like you said, it's a softer wood, so, modifying it is really important. So, it's really smart that they're using this wood in this way to make it more usable.

JESSICA: Right and its plantation grown as well. So, it's responsibly harvested and managed.

KIM: And Accoya and Kebony are both like a brand name, so, when you say that they are plantation grown, its always plantation grown because those companies manage it.

JESSICA: Right, so the Kebony technology is the one that uses furfuryl alcohol and it basically, it impregnates the walls and makes, swells them outside. So, it makes this really really solid block where it’s almost impermeable, so it's really stable and then the Accoya wood is acetylized, and that again modifies the structure so that it makes it much more durable. So, they're not dangerously chemically modified, but they're made to be higher-performing wood products and give extended life to softer woods that normally wouldn't be able to perform in these applications.  So exterior grade wood is getting a complete makeover and reSAWN Timber actually has some of those products in their portfolio.

KIM: So, for reSAWN the options that they have that are both Accoya or Kebony are great for their exterior siding, so, we really recommend you guys look at those. If you're looking at a project that needs some exterior siding, they've got some beautiful options in their Charred line for that.

JESSICA: Yep, so all of these products are on our web site at www.caregreen.com. They're under various sections depending on the application, but they can be used in a lot of different ways and we expect to continue to add more and more wood products to our portfolio as the story comes out that, you know, wood is good, it’s a building material that's taking a positive process and putting it into a high-performing application and then in the case of products like Wonderwall, even giving it a second life after it's performed the first time. So, steel is real, but wood is good.

KIM: Thanks for listening.

JESSICA: This is Jessica.

KIM: And this is Kim.  

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