Pros & Cons: Wood as a Building Material

By Brian Ki, P.E. | November 21, 2019

Wood, or lumber, is considered as one of the oldest and most convenient materials used to construct any type of building or structure. Whether it’s 2×4’s or 2×12’s, the material literally grows on trees and is widely available. Because wood is also lightweight and can easily be cut, contractors typically consider lumber as their go-to building material.

From an engineering standpoint, wood has many pros and cons that may not be known to the average person. You may be surprised to read some of the properties below:

PROS

  • Variation: According to the Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), there are over 60,000 different species of wood in the world, each with its own distinct properties. One piece of lumber may be prettier than the other, and another may be stronger in strength. One thing is certain, there definitely is a variety from which to choose.
  • Acoustics: We all know wood is a common material used to construct most instruments. This is because wood is ideal for sound absorption by preventing echoes and vibrating noise. When it comes to buildings, wood is heavily favorited in concert halls.
  • Warmth: Wood generally gives off a warmer feeling when compared to concrete or steel materials. This is because the amount of energy to change the temperature, or specific heat, of wood is almost twice that of concrete and three times that of steel.
  • Maintenance & Repair: Wood is easy to maintain and repair. There are many treatments for wood finishes including oils, stains, and paints that can be applied and effective within a few hours. If repairs are needed, both contractors and homeowners can easily use handheld tools to cut, plain, or fasten wooden materials together.

CONS

  • Shrinkage and Swelling: Trees need water to grow and wooden materials can easily absorb water if not treated or maintained properly. When water gets into the wooden fibers, the material expands, and its structural properties become much weaker.
  • Pests & Fungi: Certain pests, insects, and fungi have the ability to digest wood. If a home is not protected against them, it’s a never-ending buffet. Some small insects, such as termites, may drill and drive lines into the wood fibers that can lead to significant deterioration of the wood material before it’s too late. Not only will pest treatments be needed, but wooden structural members may need to be replaced as well.
  • Fire: Unless treated with chemicals, wood can easily catch fire and is considered a combustible material. Thicker wood may extend the burning point of wooden materials, but engineered materials, such as oriented strand board or engineered I-joists, can easily catch fire, burn quickly, and spread very fast.

If you, as a homeowner, or your contractor have any questions about using wooden materials and their properties, feel free to contact us at Team Engineering. We’d be happy to share our thoughts and help you with your upcoming projects.

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