Friday, January 26, 2007
Engineered wood offers ease, style
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Who doesn't love the look of a charming New England cape home, replete with natural wood clapboard or shingle siding and plenty of well-detailed wood trim? You can just imagine a cozy family nestled inside, as charming and quaint as their home.
These New England transplant homes can be found around the Wasatch Front. But all that charm come with a measure of challenge. In the original New England setting, wood siding can suffer from mold and rot. In our desert climate, exterior wood faces problems with excessive heat and drying. Natural wood swells and shrinks with changes in the weather and dries out with exposure to our sometimes harsh sun. The result is warping and splitting wood and chipping paint. So while wood siding can be beautiful, it can also be high maintenance, expensive and even a drain on environmental resources.
Hence a boom in aluminum and vinyl siding. These alternatives are much lower in cost and much lower in maintenance. But they can also be much lower in aesthetic appeal. Looks are definitely sacrificed in the name of convenience when aluminum or vinyl are substituted for natural wood. Fortunately, the building products industry has been busy developing some interesting substitutes and compromises to consider for residential construction. They call it engineered wood.
Engineered wood is actually made with wood. The wood products industry has notoriously wasteful manufacturing processes. Huge amounts of sawdust, shavings and wood chips accumulate from milling operations. In the past, the common method of disposal was burning the waste, but this solution was still wasteful and harmful to the environment. But a shift occurred when manufacturers began to look at these wood by-products as raw material instead of garbage. They began to ask, "What can we do with this?" rather than "How can we get rid of this?"
The answer has been a range of new products from many different manufacturers that can be used in exterior applications. While the manufacturing process and the resulting products widely vary, the basic premise is the same. They begin with some form of wood product (sawdust, shavings or chips) from various types of trees ranging from hardwoods like oak to soft southern pine. This material is reduced to a fibrous form and is stuck together with some kind of binding agent. The binder may be a rock-hard resin or a more gentle combination such as linseed oil and wax. Some processes employ heat and pressure, others add steam.
The end result is an engineered wood material produced in many sizes and styles that can be used as siding, shingles, trim and more. They can be smooth or textured to look like different types of natural wood. It can also be painted on site or pre-painted at the factory. Engineered wood isn't maintenance-free like vinyl siding, but it does require much less attention than that true wood products because of its intrinsic stability which enhances the life of any paint application. Plus, it is an environmentally friendly alternative that is cost-effective compared with to other building materials.
So if natural wood siding is just what your dream home needs, engineered wood products may be the way to have your cake and eat it too. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.