In the last few decades new trends and innovations in wood products have emerged that are changing the way we can use this material in buildings. Additionally, wood is a material that has been touted to have many positive attributes in comparison to nonrenewable construction materials such as steel and concrete, including: renewability, a smaller carbon footprint and human health benefits. So now, how can the wood product industry keep this momentum going and increase wood use in the built environment?
Architects are one of the key decision makers for material selection in the construction sector. For this reason their familiarity, use, and perceptions of the sustainability of wood products was investigated. American Institute of Architects certified architects on the US West Coast, a prominent area for the forest product industry, were contacted to complete a questionnaire covering: levels of familiarity and use of 19 different wood products and sustainable building tools; what they believe to be benefits and weaknesses of using wood; their perceptions of wood’s impact on the environmental and healthy living environment creation; what they predict the future of wood products is regarding use in the construction sector; and how they obtain information about different materials. It was found that the responding architects’ familiarity with wood products and the use of wood products showed a positive relationship. Fire resistance, durability, and strength were seen as weaknesses of wood products, a common theme from the last two decades of research on this topic. Despite these weaknesses, respondents from Washington and Oregon indicated they predict the use of wood in the construction industry will grow more in the next five years compared to steel and concrete. It was also found that the responding architects have an overall positive perception of the environmental and health impacts of using wood products in the built environment, with some concerns about the impacts building with wood can have on forests. It appears that the environmental and health impacts building materials have is important to the responding architects, but these attributes are not as important when making material decisions for a building compared to aesthetics, codes, and cost. Lastly, the tools architects’ value most for gathering information about building materials have evolved, which means the way industry communicates with architects needs to evolve as well. It is recommended that the forest product industry improves their communication and internet presence, making information more accessible to architects interested in specifying wood.