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US homes greener ?

  1. Jan 19, 2008 #1
    I was noticing that in most of Europe or South America the hones are mostly concrete, brick, steel. US homes are wood, woodframe. Which are more environmentally freindly from the standpoint of construction materials, energy needs to build and operate, time of duration ? Many homes will be built in the future which technology willl be used , the wood frame or steel concrete ?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2008 #2

    stewartcs

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    Which ever one is cheaper.
     
  4. Jan 19, 2008 #3
    Whichever is cheaper locally ? In the US woodframe is cheaper than concrete , steel but in the long run they may last a much shorter time, need more maintenance and need more energy to heat and cool since the walls are much thiner.

    But since millions of homes are old and will be torn down in the US, especially all those old subdivisions, old small rural towns, old city, inner city buildings etc. wouldn't it be wiser to make them more similar to European - south american syled multifamily buildings ?

    And in China India where millions of new homes will be built which technology will be used the most ? Is it better to cut millions of trees for woodframe or make concrete and steel for multifamily apartment buildings ? Very interesting to see that almost only the US has those woodframe kinds of homes. Any ideas, someone knows more about this ?
     
  5. Jan 19, 2008 #4

    russ_watters

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    Wood is inherrently a far better insulator than steel or concrete, but which is more energy efficient depends on the insulation. The US uses the same international building and energy conservation codes everyone else in the world does -- unless there are local regulations that require more.

    The US uses wood because we have it in abundance and therefore it is cheap. Since a properly built and maintained wood home can last hundreds of years, there is no longevity issue between wood and concrete - you simply don't plan on the house still being there that long. The maintenance of either a wood or concrete house after a hundred years costs more than the house itself.

    Regarding the issue of single vs multifamily dwellings, that's part of the American standard of living and we are going to keep it that way. The US has about the lowest population density in the developed world so that makes it possible for us to do that.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2008
  6. Jan 19, 2008 #5

    stewartcs

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    Not necessarily, there are quite a few homes in the US that are 100 years or older. The insulation on the home will determine (in part) how efficient it is.

    Builders don't think like that. They spend as little as possible in building materials to build a spec house knowing full well it may not last as long as compared to one with better materials.

    It's better for the builder that the home doesn't last that long so they can build more!

    Generally speaking, Americans like to have space. Multi-storied building, other than in metropolitan areas aren't all that attractive to us. For one, the cost of a condo or apartment is the same, if not more, than a typical single dwelling mortgage.

    For example, in downtown Dallas, TX, a 3 bedroom apt. will cost on average about $2,000 per month in rent. And you don't even own it. If you buy a condo, with no yard and very little space (plus the noise), you'll spend more than if you bought a comparable size single dwelling home.

    That's my opinion anyway.

    CS
     
  7. Jan 19, 2008 #6

    turbo

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    There are regional differences and differences in time-periods, as well. In New England, the homes of well-to-do people 100-200 years ago tended to be built of brick. There is currently very little brick home construction underway here now, and most houses are stick-built of framing lumber and plywood or press-board sheathing. When I was traveling in the deep South for business, I noticed a much higher incidence of brick construction, which I assume is due to the incidence of termite infestation in those warmer climates. If you can keep 'em out of sills and exterior walls, you're ahead of the game.
     
  8. Jan 19, 2008 #7

    Anyone know what technology will the Chinese and Indians use, since they will surely be building millions of new homes given their current growth ? I think they mostly live in concrete - steel multilevel apartments, but not sure. Does anyone know, or know these countries ? Also what is the environmental impact of concrete - steel compared to wood. Will trees never end in the US ?
     
  9. Jan 19, 2008 #8
    Another question for anyone that knows these things: millions of old, weak homes in the US will be torn down in the following years, alot seem semi-abandoned, many don't seem to have had any maintenance in years, I am thinking of many old subdivisions, small towns, inner cities, rural (those that are being sold for 50,000 dollars, check out www.city-data.com or just browse the street views of maps.google.com) etc. Can the plywood, and frames and materials these old houses were made of be re-used for new ones ? can they somehow be recycled instead of cutting down all the trees in the US ?
     
  10. Jan 19, 2008 #9

    russ_watters

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    No, the materials can't be reused.
     
  11. Jan 19, 2008 #10

    turbo

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    In general, the ability to reuse materials is dependent on the type of material. If you were to tear down a modest stick-built home, very little would be reusable. Careful de-construction of such a building would cost more than any nominal value of the salvage.

    In contrast, very old hotels, barns, mills, stores, etc, often contain wonderful beams, planks, really wide boards, and so on that can be salvaged. I worked with another chemist years back that bought some land on a high river-bank and he built a beautiful, rustic-looking house using materials salvaged from a barn. It looks great, and is heavily insulated and cheap to heat.

    As for cutting down all the trees...trees grow back and there is not enough capacity to cut and mill all the trees in one generation, anyway. Here in Maine, two very large sawmills have been closed recently because the downturn in the housing market has saturated the lumber market. A more imminent pressure is the demand for paper, cardboard, and corrugated packing materials, which is skyrocketing.
     
  12. Jan 20, 2008 #11
    Thanks for the clues. Anyways anyone know what technology will the Chinese and Indians use, since they will surely be building millions of new homes given their current growth ? I think they mostly live in concrete - steel multilevel apartments, but not sure. Does anyone know, or know these countries ? Also what is the environmental impact of concrete - steel compared to wood ?

    I think concrete needs more energy to produce, but I may be wrong. I am thinking of the entire cycle from raw material to finished house using concrete - brick - steel versus using wood. I heard the chinese are using 50 % of the world concrete production. Which hurts the environment more ? Which is prone to run out sooner ?
     
  13. Jan 21, 2008 #12
  14. Jan 21, 2008 #13
    It should be mentioned that the production of durable wood products (such as housing materials) is generally good for the environment, provided the logging is done in a sustainable, responsible way. This is because the logging opens up space for more trees to grow, which in turn absorbs lots of carbon from the atmosphere, and counteracts global warming. Reforestation is one of the very few significant levers we have to counteract global warming. Note that this only works with durable products, as much of the CO2 is rereleased when the material decays, so making paper products doesn't help at all.

    Also, I've been told that there are more trees in the United States today than there were when Columbus arrived, due to extensive fire suppression. So it's not as if we're in danger of running out of wood.
     
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