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New online calculator estimates carbon benefits of wood buildings

UNITED STATES – WoodWorks, a cooperative venture of major North American wood associations, recently launched an online tool that estimates the carbon benefits of wood buildings. Released as a complement to the online cost calculator launched earlier this month, the carbon calculator estimates the amount of carbon stored in a building’s wood products (which was absorbed by the trees while growing) and the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by not using steel or concrete. The calculator is available at www.woodworks.org.

“This new calculator is an excellent tool for architects, engineers, developers, builders and anyone who has an interest in green building and reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” said Dwight Yochim, national director of WoodWorks. “Using wood materials can help reduce a building’s carbon footprint, and now building professionals have an easy-to-use calculator that quantifies these benefits.”

For example, the new 320,500-square-foot El Dorado High School in Arkansas features more than 150,000 cubic feet of lumber, panels and engineered wood products. These wood products store an estimated 3,660 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and more than 7,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions were avoided by using wood instead of steel or concrete. This equates to the annual emissions from more than 2,100 cars or from the energy to operate a home for 970 years.* El Dorado High School was completed in August 2011.

The new WoodWorks tool allows users to calculate the carbon benefits of wood buildings in one of two ways:

•If wood product information is known (such as the volume of lumber, panels, engineered wood products, decking, siding and roofing), the carbon calculator will provide a detailed estimate related to that specific building. The more detailed the information, the better the results.

•If product information is unknown, users can select from a list of common building types and receive an estimate based on typical wood use.

“Although a building’s operational energy use is the first thing a lot of people think of in the context of its carbon footprint, it’s really just one element,” said Yochim. “The choice of building materials has a significant impact. Life cycle assessment studies show time and time again that wood has less embodied energy than other materials, which makes it a good choice related to greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that wood also stores carbon makes the benefits that much more pronounced. Our hope is that, with the carbon calculator, we’re giving design and building professionals another tool that supports the objective of low or net-zero energy buildings.”

In addition to the carbon calculator, WoodWorks recently released a cost calculator that estimates the savings of using wood building materials.

To use the carbon and cost calculators, and learn about other WoodWorks resources, visit www.woodworks.org.

*Calculated with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator