Build Green: Wood Can Last for Centuries

One of FPL’s most beloved and long-lasting publications was the 1976 brochure by Rodney C. DeGroot, “Your Wood Can Last for Centuries.” In 2012, folks in FPL’s Durability and Wood Protection Research Team decided that this historical publication needed updating and revision.

The colorful and practical report that resulted was Build Green: Wood Can Last for Centuries by Carol A. Clausen and Samuel V. Glass. This report explains why wood decays, alerts the homeowner to conditions that can result in decay in buildings, and describes measures to prevent moisture-related damage to wood.

Wood is our Most Valuable Renewable Resource

The use of wood in home construction affects our environment in ways that are not obvious to most homeowners. Efficient use of wood as a green building material promotes healthy forests that, in turn, clean the air of greenhouse gases and purify drinking water. Wood is not only a versatile structural material, but its use for home construction also reduces the effects of climate change by storing carbon for as long as the home exists. Thus, the longer the service life of the building, the greater the benefit to the environment. One limitation that can shorten the service life of a structure is wood’s vulnerability to moisture and decay. Yet wood buildings can last for centuries without decay problems.

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The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, circa 1636, is the oldest reported frame house still standing in America today. (Permission from the Digital Archive of American Architecture.)

Why do some homes built of wood last for centuries while others develop decay soon after construction?

The reason is that wood is a biological material. When it is used properly, wood does not deteriorate. However, when misused, wood succumbs to the same biological process that decomposes dead trees in the forest. In other words, it is rotted by fungi or eaten by termites, or both! In the forest, decomposition is a necessary and worthwhile process, but to a homeowner it means costly repairs.

FPL scientists explain why wood decays and alert homeowners to conditions that cause decay in buildings. Being alert to decay hazards can prevent future damage to your current or future home and construction projects. Often, you will find that simple procedures provide remarkable protection. Other times, more drastic repairs are necessary to correct damage and prevent recurring problems. Whatever the damage, it will surely get worse unless you locate the problem and correct it. Yet, historic wood-framed structures illustrate that properly constructed wood buildings can last indefinitely.

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The Marrs Log House near Harrodsburg, Kentucky, was built in 1793. (Photo provided by the Library of Congress.)