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Environmental costs of home construction lower with wise choice, reuse of building materials

Most of the energy that goes into building U.S. homes is consumed not by the power tools, welding and trucking during construction but during the manufacture of the building materials, according to a comprehensive life-cycle assessment comparing typical wood-, steel- and concrete-frame homes.

Using the least energy-intensive building materials and taking steps toward such things as recycling and reusing more building materials makes sense considering the nation's energy concerns and attendant issues of pollution and global warming, according to University of Washington's Bruce Lippke, professor of forest resources. He and 22 other authors recently published a report tallying the environmental impact of home construction.

Considering the energy required to produce building materials, construct, maintain and demolish a house on a time period of 75 years is one part of a cradle-to-grave analysis known as a life-cycle assessment. In this case researchers determined that the construction of a hypothetical Minneapolis steel-frame home used 17 percent more energy than the matching wood-frame home. Constructing the study's hypothetical Atlanta concrete-frame home used 16 percent more energy than a matching wood-frame house. The designs in both cases were typical of homes in those regions.

Choosing construction materials wisely is significant, Lippke says, because building 1.7 million houses using wood-, steel- and concrete-frame construction each year consumes as much energy as heating and cooling 10 million or more homes a year. Better material selection and house design could reduce energy use during home construction substantially, he says.

The energy tallied for the study included not just electricity but also such things as diesel and fuel oil to extract and haul materials, natural gas to generate steam in lumber mills and electricity for steel mills.

"Everything kind of flows from energy consumption," Lip
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Contact: Sandra Hines
shines@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
26-Aug-2004


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