Essential Eastern White Pine: A Building Block of Sustainability

Eastern White Pine forests view

High quality, sustainable, domestically produced resources are more important than ever. Eastern White Pine is among the top building materials in the United States for many great reasons: it’s strong, affordable, easy to work with and produces beautiful results. When grown in responsibly managed forests, it’s among the most environmentally friendly materials you can buy. And its production supports the preservation of natural habitats, recreational forests, climate change mitigation and economic security for rural families.

Wood may be one of humankind’s original building materials, but it’s also the material of the future. Not only is it a great choice for many projects in its natural state, recent innovations have produced wood-based materials that are bulletproof and fireproof.

Eastern White Pine, in particular, is a native species known for producing long, straight boards of superior quality, and to let them reach their full potential for lumber, Eastern White Pine growers let them grow for many decades in natural forest environments. Recently approved for use in mass timber projects, it could help meet the demand for wooden architecture that’s rising around the world.

Some people believe that we should reduce our dependence wood, because too many trees are being cut down. But that’s a misconception, at least when it comes to sustainably managed forests. While deforestation is a huge global problem (and a major contributor to climate change), most of it is the result of unregulated or illegal timber harvesting. Here in the U.S., initiatives to protect forests have made big gains in recent decades.

We now have roughly two-thirds the amount of trees we had in the year 1600, and most of those gains have been concentrated along the Eastern coast, where the majority of the losses occurred in the first place. In fact, average wood-per-acre volumes have almost doubled since the 1950s. The United States has more trees today than we had 100 years ago (and a global study even found that the number of trees on Earth is around 3.04 trillion, a much higher number than previously believed.)

In fact, rising demand for wood actually leads to forest growth, encouraging landowners large and small not only to plant trees but to stagger their harvests in a sustainable way, so there’s always a steady supply of both living, growing forest habitats and lumber. Well-managed forests help maintain our water quality, too.

Small, sustainably managed forests are crucial for the future of the planet, with the potential to absorb one-tenth of the projected global carbon emissions during the first half of the 21st century. They’re also a lifeline for rural communities, providing thousands of forestry and manufacturing jobs.

UMass Study Finds Eastern White Pine Ideal for New Sustainable Building Material

UMass CLT Eastern White Pine study

Eastern White Pine, one of the Northeast’s most treasured native trees, has been found to be structurally sound for use in cross-laminated timber (CLT) by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The study, recently published in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, tested CLT made from both Eastern White Pine and eastern hemlock for strength to find out if they would be safe for use in a university-size building.

Lead author Peggi Clouston, professor of wood mechanics and timber engineering in the School of Earth and Sustainability, helped develop the wood construction technology used in UMass Amherst’s John W. Oliver Design Building, a showcase for best practices in sustainability. All the wood for that building was locally sourced and FSC-certified.

Cloustin and her team of researchers tested the composite building panels they made in the UMass Wood Mechanics Lab.

“We then broke them in a strength-testing machine to find out if they would be safe to use in a university-size building,” Clouston explains.

Identifying low-carbon materials for construction is an emerging buzz among architects, and the timing is right to encourage CLT production in the Northeast, the research concludes.

“The testing we did shows that anyone who would want to invest in a local plant has a reason to do so,” says Clouston, whose trailblazing work was recently highlighted in a Washington Post feature story. “The prospect of being able to use local wood in CLT and manufacture it locally makes it all the more sustainable by avoiding the environmental cost of transporting the material long distances.”

The manufacturing of CLT, a type of mass timber used for wall, floor and roof construction, could create jobs, improve rural and forestry economies and support better forestry management, which is a strategy to address climate change, the research says.

Read more about the sustainability of Eastern White Pine.

France Will Require All New Buildings to Be Made From 50% Wood

Paris Olympic Village rendering by Dominique Perrault

Here’s an interesting update on the international trend towards more wooden architecture. The French government is implementing a new sustainability law requiring all new public buildings to include at least 50 percent timber in their construction.

Set to be implemented by 2022, the law will affect all buildings financed by the French state, according to Agence France-Presse. The decision aligns with the country’s Sustainable City Plan, launched in 2009, which aims for France to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

“I impose on all the public establishments which depend on me and which make the development or the policy of land to build buildings with materials which are at least 50 per cent of wood or bio-based materials,”  the country’s minister for cities and housing Julien Denormandie told the French news agency.

Taking Inspiration from the Olympics

Denormandie made the announcement following his seminar at the Living in the city of tomorrow event at UNESCO on February 5. He explained that building the 2024 Paris Olympics complex entirely from timber provided inspiration. “We made this commitment for the Olympic Games. There is no reason why what is possible for the Olympic Games should not be possible for the usual constructions.”

Hyperion building in France
Hyperion building in France

Dominique Perrault’s master plan for the Olympic Village will be located in the lower-income neighborhood of Saint Denis and feature a series of mid-rise passive or energy-plus developments made of wood or other sustainable materials, which could include hemp or straw. France’s first residential tower made from mass timber, Hyperion, is also expected to inspire new wooden buildings when it opens next year.

A Note on Fire Safety

When we talk about new large-scale timber projects, the most common question asked is, “but what about fire risk?” These kinds of wooden buildings are made from engineered wood like glulam, cross-laminated timber (CLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL). They’re light, strong, more sustainable than materials like concrete and steel, and yes, they’re designed to meet or exceed fire codes and standards. The reason we’re seeing more large-scale wooden architecture is that tests have proven the safety of these materials, leading to changes in building code around the world.

In fact, you can take it straight from firefighters. Here’s a brief snippet of an extensive piece on the fire safety of tall timber buildings.

“Most fires that occur in structures are room-and-contents fires, with the first material ignited being the contents of the room. As long as combustible building contents exist (e.g., furniture, computers, personal belongings, files), there will never be a truly non-combustible building. The building materials utilized in construction will never prevent a room-and-contents fire, but they must be able to resist the fire for an acceptable period of time. The automatic sprinkler system keeps the fire in check, preventing flashover, and the fire alarm notifies the occupants. Eventually, any building material will fail if the fire burns long enough. Steel will lose strength and fail, concrete will spall and fail, and wood will char and fail. That is why fire testing is essential for all building materials.”

“In December 2015, the ICC board of directors established an ad hoc committee of designers, code officials and members of the fire service, including firefighters, fire chiefs and fire protection engineers. Their task was “to research and design fire testing of mass timber and to draft code changes that ensure that tall mass timber buildings have redundant and rigorous fire safety systems that will protect the public that occupy tall mass timber buildings and the first responders that respond to them in emergencies.”

“The committee’s proposals identified a rigorous set of fire protection requirements that ensured that during reasonable fire events, no structural collapse will occur despite a complete burn-out of the room and contents. This performance is expected to occur even in the rare event of a sprinkler system failure. After two years of study, discussion, testing and analysis, the committee concluded that the proposals recommended would provide life safety protections to the public and first responders that are equal to or greater than tall buildings that are made of steel or concrete.”

For even more information, check out this update on the fire safety of timber construction at the Building Products Digest.

Stumps and Twigs: USDA Launches Study to Find Uses for Logging Leftovers

chad bolding

A new USDA study just launched on the East Coast that will examine how to best reuse logging industry “residue” for renewable energy and other purposes. Leftover materials from the industry include treetops, twigs stumps and slash, which were once commonly left behind as waste.

The 3-year study connects the forestry departments at Virginia Tech, Auburn University, West Virginia University and the University of Maine to determine new environmental and economic best practices for reclaiming the materials, which are in demand by the renewable energy industry.

The mid-Atlantic portion of the study is led by Virginia Tech Forestry Professor Chad Bolding, who has previously authored similar studies. He says it’s of crucial importance to make sure these efforts support, rather than hindering, the commercial production of timber.

“Residues are the lowest value product in the forest, so we can’t let the ‘tail wag the dog’.  We have to minimize the impact on the round wood production, while also gaining the residues at minimal cost and efficiency.”

Bolding says residue materials could be used to bolster the value of working forests overall, and ultimately aid in the fight against catastrophic climate change.

The more demand we have for forest products, the more likely forests are to stay forests.”

Check out a report on this study at RadioIQ, Virginia’s public radio station.

Photo of Chad Bolding via Virginia Tech

Sustainable Wood is the Material of the Future


Not so long ago, the idea of a skyscraper or a car made almost entirely out of wood might have sounded a bit ridiculous. Yet new record-breaking tall timber architectural projects are underway around the world, and engineers in Japan are working on a working wooden concept car that will debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Meanwhile, scientists are developing a host of wood-based wonder materials.

We now have wood that’s made bulletproof and fireproof through densification. The University of Stuttgart put wood through a fairly simple process of lignin removal and compression for a water-resistant result that’s also capable of passively shedding heat, reflecting sunlight and warmth to naturally lower the temperature of a building’s interiors. Wood-based plastics could make it possible to enjoy all of the benefits of plastic without the environmental harm. Wood can even be used for 3D printing, or transformed into a totally transparent alternative to glass.

wood glass

All of this is just the beginning. Thanks to recent advancements in engineered wood, we’ll likely see even more innovation making use of this treasured resource in the near future. But that doesn’t mean we should be worried about the fate of our forests. As long as the wood is sustainably grown and harvested in well-managed forests, rising demand for wood products is actually a good thing because it encourages landowners to devote large tracts of acreage to timber production instead of clear-cutting forests for other business ventures, like real estate.

Responsible logging practices make sure forests managed for production of wood products contribute to healthy ecosystems while maintaining a steady supply. That translates to more (preferably mixed-species) forests that can function as wildlife habitat, recreation lands and – crucially – carbon sinks in between harvest cycles.

Check out some of the super-tall wooden structures currently under construction, including an entire “wooden skyscraper city” in Sweden, a timber high-rise in Toronto and the world’s tallest skyscraper planned for Tokyo in our architecture category.

Long-Lived Wood Products Can Benefit the Climate Even More Than We Thought

Metropol Parasol

There are lots of great reasons to make all sorts of things out of wood. It’s beautiful, durable, renewable and strong. It only gets more beautiful with age. It’s biodegradable, and its manufacturing byproducts can be reclaimed for everything from livestock bedding to producing clean power via biomass. But the benefits of boosting the number of wooden buildings and other structures around the world even go beyond all of that, helping to mitigate climate change long after they’re constructed.

Scientists have known for years that living forests store a whole lot of carbon and keep it from being released into the atmosphere. Sustainably managed forests have the potential to absorb one-tenth of the projected global carbon emissions during the first half of the 21st century. The key is keeping up the pace of forest growth through responsible forestry practices. Sophisticated new modern forestry techniques make it possible to mimic the state of old-growth forest habitats to boost carbon absorption rates even while growing and harvesting trees for sale as logs.

But a new study by the University of Finland confirms that timber continues to play a vital role in battling climate change even after it’s harvested and transformed into something new. Timber products lock about 1 ton of carbon dioxide per square meter. Right now, wood is the only construction material that stores carbon from the atmosphere regardless of the frame, insulation or cladding materials used. When their life cycle as buildings are complete, the components can be recycled into new objects to keep the atmospheric carbon locked away.

One of the most important factors in this process is the creation of more long-lived wood products rather than single-use or short-term materials like paper disposables. The world would see even more climate benefits if we started using more wood in place of other materials that require a lot of energy for their production.

The study traced flows of wood in Lithuania and the Czech Republic from the forest to the mill and through the end use of the products.

The results show that conventional carbon accounting methods for harvest wood products may lead to a significant underestimation of the carbon stored in wood products. The study found that in some countries, the annual carbon budget in wood products is 40% higher when calculated with a more detailed method.”

The findings were originally published in International Wood Products Journal, Forests, and Journal of Industrial Ecology. Read the summary here.

Photo: Metropol Parasol by J. Mayer H. Architects