Concrete Vs Wood

Our friend Eric sent us an article in the Globe and Mail yesterday about plans to build a 35 to 40 story tower in Vancouver out of wood. Here’s the link to that story but you can’t read it without a subscription.

Contrast that to the dominant way we build tall buildings in NYC which is out of concrete, steel, and glass.

The reason that a move back to wood based structures is so important is that the concrete structures are huge contributors to greenhouse gases. According to the Globe and Mail article, “concrete construction is responsible for an estimated eight per cent of all carbon emissions worldwide.”

The Gotham Gal and I are in the process of making two passive house apartment buildings in Brooklyn based on cross-laminated timber structures with only a small amount of concrete in them.

This is a photo of one of them back in December when the CLT structure had just been completed:

Our buildings are five or six stories high. The idea that you can make a building of 35 or 40 stories out of CLT and dowel laminated timbers (DLT) is very exciting to me.

I believe we can innovate our way out of the climate change mess we are in right now and changing the way we make our homes and offices is a big part of that.

#climate crisis

Comments (Archived):

  1. Matt A. Myers

    Outline of the article – trees, 35 to 45 stories. It’s cool, so long as attached to proper forest and environment management.I’ve been following this technology for awhile. Unsure if they’re reference to “stronger than concrete” is actually referencing the steel used within concrete: there is a process that’s been developed to turn wood into a material with better properties than steel.The future is bright.

  2. awaldstein

    Thanks Fred.As an environmentalist, this piques my attention on something I was unaware of.As an ex home, log cabin and stringed instrument builder, it touches a soft spot certainly for me.

  3. kenberger

    What are the cost factors in comparing CLT DLT to the current dominant paradigm?And durability/longevity comparisons, if we can indeed get to taller structures?

    1. fredwilson

      i do not think CLT/DLT is much more expensive than concretethe big issues have been getting these materials permittedour structures are among the first permitted CLT structures in NYC

      1. kenberger

        “The big issues have been getting these materials permitted”–Protectionism? Unknown safety elements?My wife and I are likely to be in the game in NYC coming up 🙂

        1. fredwilson

          i think caution, possibly an abundance of it

  4. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Respect to Gotham Gal, Eric and yourself.Not only is wood a great substitute for concrete from a build perspective,- it has better insulation properties, – is lighter- easier to remould when needed- lower energy to transport – Looks better- Often more locally sourced- Does not require the making of hideous quarry pits- Oh and it increases the commercial return of well managed woodlandsIn short – whats NOT to like ?

    1. William Mougayar

      How does it fare on fire risks?

      1. ra ba

        It actually fares better than concrete surprisingly. Wood burns on the surface but then a protective layer of coal is generated that leaves the inner part intact and structurally sound.

    2. JamesHRH

      Has anyone done a carbon footprint on the massive factories that are required to turn out DLT?Is it basically the same as a Tesla, where the battery production process eats up 8 years of Tesla driving (assuming your electricity source is carbon neutral, which of course, 95% of electrons are not, so…….)?Its neat, old schooly, and hipster doofi in Brooklyn will eat it up. But, has anyone done the carbon math?

      1. Pointsandfigures

        right, electric cars are actually less green than my diesel since the carbon emissions required to manufacture the batteries are greater than the carbon emission of the diesel

        1. zakumanoff

          I think this misses the bigger picture. ALL points of pollution need to be greened up- cars, power plants, mining operations, etc. Battery powered cars don’t pollute. So that solves the car problem. Now we need to focus on the other polluters, one by one.

          1. zakumanoff

            I’m not entirely disagreeing with you. In the short term, EV cars might be a net negative. But longer term (10 years?), as other points of pollution (power plants, mining operations, etc) are converted to clean energy, EV cars will be a net positive.The transition to EV cars can’t possibly happen overnight, so my sense is that starting the transition now is as close to optimal as we’re going to get.I’ll set a reminder in my calendar to come back to this thread 10 years from now. 🙂

          2. Pointsandfigures

            The study shows that other fuels in cars would be better than electric. Unless, you took your power grid nuclear. One of the issues is the environmental damage caused by mining for battery elements and disposal of the batteries.

          3. zakumanoff

            OK, does the study assume that diesel emissions are based on the auto manufacturers specs, or based on reality (ie cheat mode disabled)? Does it take into account public health impact (costs) of diesel exhaust? Are the authors of the study in any way biased in favor of the German auto-industry (which is going to be massively hit by the transition to EV’s)? Is there also an assumption that mining/disposal operations will never be cleaned up? Better battery chemistries won’t be invented? etc.

          4. Pointsandfigures

            the data is the data. you can’t do studies on hope.

    3. SFG

      I would also like to ask the fire question too.

  5. JamesHRH

    I think we can innovate our way out of climate issues as well.But, I was thinking more along these lines:

    1. sigmaalgebra

      He was okay until he started spouting about gigatons of CO2. He neglected to compare that CO2 with that from volcanoes, etc. If he did a comparison, he would see that his gigatons are still a hair on a nit on a gnat on a flea of CO2 from non-human sources.Next he totally ignored the issue of, more CO2 in the atmosphere? So what? Will it warm the planet significantly? NOPE. Here he just assumed what the alarmists have been claiming, that realistic quantities, e.g., from human sources, of CO2 will warm the planet significantly. Nope.Next he totally ignored the issue of, suppose the climate does warm some. Then what? Well, we have some good data from the Medieval Warm Period — fine times! Basically he is just assuming from the alarmists that any human caused warming would be bad for humans. Well, we can’t use CO2 to warm the planet at all significantly even if we wanted to, but if we did warm the planet a little, fine.Plenty of good details are inThe Great Global Warming Swindleas at…Plenty of details. A quite good presentation.

  6. Ian Rice

    Fred – what neighborhoods are your Brooklyn real estate projects in? And why did you choose those areas?Thanks, Ian

    1. fredwilson

      northern brooklyn, bed stuy, clinton hill, fort greenebecause our kids live there and we know them well

  7. jason wright

    “This content is available to subscribers.”What stops the wood from burning?

  8. David C. Baker

    As a dedicated woodworker, I love this post. Check out this video of a massive mortise/tenon machine from Germany that spits out the raw materials after CNC work. https://www.finehomebuildin

    1. fredwilson


  9. k77ws

    Major irony. For decades I was told “save the trees!” “save paper, print less!” — we are going to deforest the entire Amazon basin and run out of trees!!!! And now here we are full circle — we need more trees!!! No not for paper — we are build entire buildings out of them because they are so environmentally friendly. Is “deforestation” no longer a concern of the environmentalists?

    1. SFG

      Yes, just how can it be cool now to build entire buildings out of wood? Why aren’t the environmentalists protesting?

      1. Pointsandfigures

        You can grow more trees. The earth is more heavily forested today than it was 50 years ago. Managing forests in populated areas by clearcutting and logging is a good idea.

        1. SFG

          Good point, but chopping down all of the trees does have a catch: especially in tropical forests and savannas. The man made forests do not compensate for the degradation done to ecosystems through land clearance.But CA is ok with me getting a half a tree’s worth of junk mail each week, while banning plastic bags and soon straws. So there must be a lot of trees to cut down if junk mail is not on the ban list.

          1. Pointsandfigures

            HA. My grandfather was in the USFS. He ran Superior National Forest at the end of his career. He didn’t like the direction the USFS was headed at the end of his life. Tropical forests etc are a very different organism than boreal forests. I wonder if selective logging would keep the organism whole, while allowing man a harvest and creating new room for new trees to grow? I do know that if you graze cattle you bust up the soil and allow seeds to germinate that can see succession build up a forest. Science is often counter intuitive

    2. k77ws

      But wait there’s more — what do trees “EAT”??? CO2. Ouch. Double whammy – fewer CO2 “consumers” and deforestation. All to ‘save us from greenhouse gas producing concrete and steel’ ha.What will the environmentalists think of next.

    3. scottythebody

      You are being wilfully ignorant to prove some point that you think you are making. Obviously it is “bad” to clear cut Amazon rain forest to re-plant it as soy beans. Obviously wood can be sustainably and responsibly harvested as a renewal resource. It is possible to have a nuanced stand and hold multiple ideas in one’s head. But why do that when you think you can act smart and “own libs”.

    1. creative group

      Tom Labus:Thanks for the alley oop!Captain Obvious!#UNEQUIVOCALLYUNAPOLOGETICALLYINDEPENDENT https://uploads.disquscdn.c

  10. Salt Shaker

    Two issues that popped into my head beyond cost (the Globe & Mail piece indicates the 35-40 story Vancouver project will cost tens of millions more than standard modern-day construction): 1) Structural Integrity: Is CLT a safety concern in quake zones (less of a concern in NYC) and 2) Noise: Concrete is a pretty good noise insulator, which is always a fairly big concern in urban living.Cost will always be the dominant discriminator for the masses, though there prob are enough “green” conscious consumers willing to pay a price premium for a greater good.

  11. ADJMacro

    There is a reason that stick framing is not done in major cities like NYC and Chicago. Stick frame buildings were the major cause of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 where 17,000 structures were destroyed because of how fast the fire spread due to the wood in the buildings.…I understand that CLT is supposed to be more fire resistant but I question the wisdom of building a ton of structures tightly packed together from any kind of timber.In Dallas where stick framing is standard, the buildings are separated and rarely are close enough to allow a fire to jump to another structure.The unintended consequences of these types of structures going up, especially towers, will probably far outweigh the help to climate change.

    1. Richard

      Factoring in the probability of carbon release from a fire – you just screwed up FREDS expected carbon contribution calculation. Thanks a lot!

      1. Pointsandfigures

        Chicago in 1870 was far different than today. my guess is that even if a new city was built with 100% CLT structures, the sidewalks wouldn’t be wood, and the streets wouldn’t be mud or gravel. In addition, overhead sprinkling systems and other emergency HVAC systems are far better so fires are eliminated much sooner, and spotted when they happen.

  12. ShanaC

    Given the new permitting, I’m curious how risk management for these buildings work

  13. Tommy Gibbons

    Hi Fred,What type of insulation are you using? I would direct you towards hempcrete, a carbon-negative passive insulation material that is energy efficient, non-toxic, renewable, and fire resistant. Hempitecture is the expert in this green building material in the United States and works nationwide.Good luck!Tommy

  14. William Mougayar

    BC being so big in forestry, that makes sense. But I wonder about the practicalities or costs if you have to move the lumbar from far away.

  15. Richard

    Wait, doesn’t the song go, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”As any stickball player knows, concrete is way cooler vs asphalt on a hot summer day.Funny thing, if concrete contributes 8% to all greenhouse gases, and you add up all the other green claims, you end up with 212%! Did you also hear that it correlation coefficient of concrete use.This message brought to you by Carmine’s Concrete Co.

  16. sigmaalgebra

    ForI believe we can innovate our way out of the climate change mess we are in right now and changing the way we make our homes and offices is a big part of that. It’s a “mess” alright: The “mess” is the claim that human activities have had or are having any significant effect on climate or temperature at all.Plenty of good details are inThe Great Global Warming Swindleas at…Plenty of details. A quite good presentation.For humans affecting the climate, f’get about it.

    1. Pointsandfigures

      I think whether you think global warming is real, or not-you can take actions to decrease your impact on the environment.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        There can be lists of literally billions of things I “can” do, but the main question is, what the heck should I do?The global warming and climate change alarmists are screaming for massive changes that would be expensive on an historic scale. E.g., the AOC, Democrat Green New Deal would take the US economy back to before 1900, basically stop nearly all the wheels from turning, devastate our cities, and of our 300+ million people kill, say, 10-30 million of us. No joke. That’s exactly what they are calling for.On a smaller scale, the alarmists are calling for raising my costs of transportation, especially gasoline. I’m still pissed at the Greenies for ruining the A/C in two of my cars: Just when finally I had money enough to get A/C in my new cars, the Greenies ruined it. All for the ozone hole over Antarctica. Of COURSE there is an ozone hole over Antarctica: The ozone they are talking about is caused by sunlight, and for several months a year there is no sunlight at all over Antarctica. Since ozone is highly reactive and, thus, unstable, presto, bingo, slam, bam, thank you ma’am, soon, maybe hours or minutes, no ozone and a big ozone hole.The whole ozone hole thingy was a flim, flam, fraud scam, maybe to force the world to use a new refrigeration working fluid that could have patent protection since the old Freon was being made dirt cheap around the world.The “impact on the environment” seems part of the scam: Set up an earth/environment quasi-religion complete with “sin” and claims of the old trilogy of transgression (sin), retribution (suffering), and redemption (sacrifice and usually make the church rich, e.g., the Bishop’s Residence at Wurzburg — have to pay for that yourself, even just the stairs, could really set you back).Of COURSE I have an “impact on the environment”. I need a reason why I shouldn’t.Again, there are a billion things I “can” do, many millions of which would hurt my life or kill me.You may have known Barry Lind. Well, I know a guy who knew Lind and has a simple, general purpose question: “Why should I?”. Unless the answer is pretty good, which is rare, the conclusion is, shouldn’t. This guy likes water and boats. He has a navy — it’s a small navy. One way and another, he gets lots of requests that mostly involve his spending money. Then he asks his simple question and mostly doesn’t. I don’t have nearly that much money and much more readily give the same answer — no thanks.Okay, so it was the ozone, that is, the bad ozone in LA and the good ozone over Antarctica. That was caused by our sin of wanting air conditioning. I debunked that one. Then it was the garbage, we are being buried in our garbage from our sins of a throwaway life style. I did some simple arithmetic, once on-line confirmed by a guy in the carting business, and debunked that one. The it was the trees — we’re cutting down all the trees. Well, last I heard, actually the number of trees in the US is fine, near historic highs: It seems that we have lots of public lands, lots of tree farming, and are using wood much less than we did, say, 150 years ago with Victorian houses. And for the trees in the Amazon, not a chance — the place is HUUUUUUGE. Same for the forests of Canada and, of course, much of the third world. Then the sin was our cars, especially all the junk cars piling up in junk yards, about to overwhelm our cities. Nonsense: Those junk yards are high yield sources of iron and aluminum. Then the sin was flushing toilets, using too much water. We were about to run out of water and needed low flow or no flow toilets and low flow showers. Nonsense. I get my water from a well, about 150′ feet down, and there’s no sign of shortage. For NYC, it has huge reservoirs north of the city and some huge infrastructure of water tunnels, etc. carrying water to the city. A lot of the screaming about running out of water was from people trying to live in deserts — bummer. Lots of people know there’s not much water in the deserts. Then there was the screaming, from our defacto Secretary of Energy at Large Jane Fonda, about meltdowns to China. Cost us super big bucks, e.g., for re-dos and finally shutdowns of lots of nuclear fission electric power. It cost us in our electric bills — bummer. Then there was Saint Laureate Al Guru and the sin of CO2 causing retribution needing sacrifice, e.g., now with AOC, the GND, and the Democrats, killing 10-30 million US citizens in the next 10 years.So there is a pattern: Take something people do, like to do, need to do, and/or should do and use a lot of total BS propaganda to paint that as a sin, a threat, and then outlaw it, regulate it, tax it, charge for it, etc. Have big propaganda campaigns in the bought and paid for media and laws in the bought and paid for politicians.No thanks. I’ve heard about The Enlightenment, The Age of Reason, mathematics, physical science, engineering, rationality, and evaluation of evidence, and I’ve heard about how killing the “evil” cats caused too many rats with too many fleas and then the Black Death, witchcraft trials, old leach bleeding style medicine, snake oil nostrums, the Mayans killing people to pour their blood on a rock to keep the sun moving across the sky, etc., and now my answer to this Medieval style, earth quasi-religion is not only no but hell no.

  17. BillMcNeely

    How does this factor into restricting or ban wood framed buildings in many cities such as as Atlanta due to some construction fires? Here is a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek

  18. obarthelemy

    I’m always a bit doubtful when I see stuff like that. Wood sounds more environment-friendly than concrete, but what’s the cradle-to-grave analysis ? I’d assume wood to last decades, cement centuries; fire risk; actual eco-friendly of wood (it doesn’t contribute much to pollution right now because nobody is using it much), etc…And yes, I’m still on the fence on wether electric cars are eco-friendly.

  19. ra ba

    If you combine wood “tech” with prefabricated manufacturing tech you actually get something that is cheaper, better and nicer than concrete.

  20. baba12

    Any proposal/execution of sustainable product/service as a way to have less impact on the acceleration of climate change caused by humans is at best peeing on a forest fire.The per capita energy consumption especially in Western Europe/U.S./Canada over the last 40 plus years has only grown year over year, maybe the generation of the energy may have changed a bit but overall consumption has not come down at all.Unless consumption comes down nothing will matter. China/India/Africa are still have per capita consumption levels are still far behind the U.S./Europe and they are all trying to get to consume the same and rightly so.As long as people can not make significant sacrifices everything that they are doing currently is NICE to do and it can make them feel good about themselves but it will not matter much.People with money who have a Tesla and have LEED certified houses and recycle etc feel good , but none of them will be willing to cut back the size of their houses or take mass transit to get to The Hamptons etc. I take a view that the world in 300-400 years will have about 1 Billion people living in several oasis around the world (war over resources, disease and warmer climate will cull the population) So far everything we have done or are doing with regards to “climate change” has and will be things don’t cause friction. Cutting back consumption is not acceptable.

  21. sigmaalgebra

    Your science, engineering, environmental engineering, rationalism, etc. are in a word, just wrong. In two words, badly wrong. The quasi-religious earth worship preachers have got you all obsessed with what they claim are sins.At one time, my office was across the hall from that of Able Wolman, the guy who chlorinated water for much of the US and the world. From him and others I learnedThe solution to pollution is dilutionWant to know some of what is really, really bad to the oceans? Okay, undersea volcanoes.Want to know what the really biggie sources of CO2 and dust in the atmosphere are? Again, volcanoes.There are PLENTY of trees.There actually has been a big problem with trees, a problem costing the US $billions a year, all from spaced out, Greenie wack-o California Governor Moonbeam and his Greenie religion about 100% all-natural forest management. Look, Moonie, those lands were clear cut, are growing back, and are not yet back to stable forests. In the meanwhile we have to clear out the trash or just not be there for the annual trash burn offs until the trees are like they were 500 years ago. Got it Greenie Moonie?CO2 is NO PROBLEM. Just watch the darned movie.Want to be concerned with the environment? Okay, go to the Vatican of the High Priestess of the Democrat Party, that is, go to the Land of Speaker Pelosi and look at HER streets of really dangerous drug needles and feces, that’s as in the AOC, Fauxcahontas, Green New Deal Democrat party.If you believe that their screaming is really about anything significant to do with the environment, then you are super easy to manipulate, and I’ve got a great deal for you, for this afternoon only, act fast, on a bridge over the East River.Clean up Pelosi Land and be reasonably careful otherwise, and we are all JUST FINE.It’s part of growing up: Have some judgment about people with really selfish intentions willing to hurt you and trying to get on your back and in your pocket and their convenient idiots that form tribes, etc. And for their claims, have some mature judgment based on rationalism and evaluation of evidence. Those manipulators are a MUCH more serious threat than, say, Diesel soot.Being taken in by simplistic, nonsense manipulations is part of youth. I know; I know; youth is such a wonderful time of life, too bad it’s wasted on young people. We all need to grow up from some of the worst of youth; we need some, call it, maturity: It’s not less caring or concerned or worse but just more ACCURATE about reality.Or, it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we do know for sure that just ain’t true, and a big example now is the Greenie quasi religion of earth worship. I know; I know; in Democrat land, got to wear the Greenie robes to fit in with the tribe.Charlie, your concerns are part of a nice, well defined package of Greenie neuroses that just AIN’T TRUE. Dangerous, dirty needles on the streets in Pelosi Land? TB and other public health problems from the immigrants? Lyme disease in the NE? More syphilis in US rural areas? Big tax burdens from the illegal immigrants? Going extinct from poor family formation, poor parenting, and too few babies? Cigarettes? Too much alcohol? The opioids — from a well done CDC report, killed 72,000 in the US in 2017…and more.And shipping a few hundred $billion a year to the Mexican drug cartels — how much of that would it take to buy off all of Congress? Chump change, right? Tiny overhead in the cost of doing business?On the issues with Mexico, what side is the US Congress on?The Greenie concerns? Voluntary, self-inflicted open artery blood letting, highly harmful. More harm to the US than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. ever hoped for.That adolescent ignorance and its anxieties are tough to live with; grow up Charlie. Give your brain a chance.

  22. Daniel Lovett

    Seriously, Charlie it’s not easy to let go of the world view you’ve been lied to for your whole life. I’m pulling for you! #walkaway