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In order to evaluate the sustainability of building materials you need to think about how and where the products have been made. It is always better to choose locally-manufactured products wherever possible as importing materials means additional energy in the form of fuel has been used on transportation, thereby also creating more emissions.
Wood is a sustainable building material because it is a renewable resource, unlike concrete and steel. One study identiﬁed that the total energy consumption in the manufacturing of steel beams is 2-3 times higher, and the use of fossil fuels 6-12 times higher, than when manufacturing timber beams.
In New Zealand it has been estimated that a 17% increase in wood usage in the building industry would result in a 20% reduction in carbon emissions from the manufacture of all building materials. This represents 1.5% of New Zealand’s total emissions.
When choosing timber products, look for sustainably-grown timber, such as New Zealand plantation pine, which is grown on land that would otherwise be unsuitable for use.
Another obvious factor to consider is using safe and healthy materials. Research has shown that timber offers many health beneﬁts including moderating indoor humidity. Timber provokes feelings of warmth, comfort and relaxation, helping to reduce stress levels,blood pressure and heart rate.
Paints and sealing products give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can contribute to asthma and other health problems so look for paints which carry the “Environmental Choice” label. Generally waterborne paint emits less fumes than oil-based paint.