How long does it take to grow a hotel?

Admittedly this is a bit of a strange question to ask. However, when you are considering using wood products in your buildings, this question might come up in discussions – especially when clients think about resource depletion issues. As it turns out, the entire amount of wood required for a 50,000 s.f. hotel in the Northeast grows in the meager timeframe of 2 minutes. Not much resource depletion there (and forests tend to get re-planted, of course).

WoodWorks, the US and Canadian agency that promotes the use of wood for non-residential construction, just released a Carbon Calculator on their website. This tool allows for interactive estimating of the carbon impact of any wood-based construction project. Because trees store (“sequester”) carbon (from CO2) when they grow (instead of emitting large quantities – as is the case with some other building materials), this calculator also estimates how much CO2 emissions are saved if wood is used. From WoodWorks’ description:

Wood products continue to store carbon absorbed by the trees during their growing cycle, keeping it out of the atmosphere indefinitely. Using wood in place of fossil fuel-intensive materials such as steel and concrete also “avoids” greenhouse gases that would have been emitted during manufacturing. Now, with the Carbon Calculator it is possible to quantify these benefits for wood buildings. The more detail you provide, the better the results.

The Carbon Calculator comes in two flavors: An “Estimator” that uses average quantities and produces a result based on a building type, size and location. In addition, a “Calculator”, which allows the user to enter the exact quantities of 2x4s, OSB sheets etc. and get a much more project-specific answer.

Another very useful tool is WoodWork’s cost comparison calculator (based on RSMeans data). From their website:

WoodWorks Cost Comparison Calculator – gives you a current comparison of building material costs using data from RSMeans Costworks data. Information used by RSMeans is based upon current city cost indexes calculated for each city/metro area included in the costing calculator. RSMeans uses index figures for both material and installation which are based upon the 30 major city average of 100 and is updated quarterly. The weighted-average index is calculated from about 66 materials and equipment types and 21 building trades. Click here for more information on RSMeans costing data.

These tools should give the planner or developer adequate information about how wood often matches or even outperforms other building materials in terms of environmental impact and cost.