As the ultimate green building material, natural wood is far superior to manufactured building materials, such as composite decking. Not only is the lumber industry actually good for the health of rain forests, but natural wood possesses a unique beauty that simply can’t be replicated. At the same time, though, it isn’t as predictable and precise as we would sometimes prefer — and it definitely doesn’t behave like a manufactured product will. Three examples are the following:
• Wood moves with shifts in moisture levels
• Wood color varies, even within species and a single tree
• Wood quality and grade specifications vary according to species
Despite the limitations and volatility of wood, we’re seeing a movement toward design styles featuring natural wood. Combining imaginative designs with real-world lumber knowledge, a buzz word in the industry is “value engineering.” In short, this concept refers to creating designs with species limitations (and cost considerations) in view.
For instance, instead of including 10-inch-wide Mahogany baseboard mouldings, a designer incorporating value engineering would recognize the fact that Mahogany typically comes in packs averaging 6 to 8 inch-wide boards. The savvy architect will realize that securing 10 inch-wide boards will require opening many packs and therefore cost much more, and they will know that the 2-inch difference won’t add enough value to the overall design to legitimize the added expense. As a result, the designer or architect will re-engineer the plan to add value.
Another example is color variation, which is perhaps the most significant frustration to customers. Particularly where long runs of flooring, moulding, or paneling are involved, color matching is simply impossible. In order to attain a long run, sorting through several packs of lumber is already needed, but the color simply won’t be consistent among the different logs from which the boards are sourced. When exotic species are being used, regulations that prohibit the import of whole logs further decrease the chances of color matching. The knowledgeable designer will consider species that typically lend toward uniform color and grain or at least plan to incorporate stain in order to unify color.
Especially when it comes to a natural building material like wood, it’s important for the builder, designer, and architect to communicate well with both their lumber supplier and their customer about realistic expectations and priorities. A lumber expert can recommend changes to a design in order to maximize value engineering, and an informed customer with realistic expectations will be more likely to be satisfied.
As all involved learn to better appreciate the unique natural beauty of wood, we can continue to serve and benefit from nature’s gifts in a way that both contributes to a specific design vision as well as recognizes the significance of species and lumber limitations.