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Environmental Impacts of Multi-Storey Buildings using Different Construction Materials

July 2009.

Using a real six-story concrete building being erected at the University of Canterbury as the template, researchers "built" another three virtual buildings with the same characteristics as the template. One is "constructed" using timber as the main structural material, another using steel, and a third being "timber-plus", in which non-structural elements also use wood and wood-based products. The objectives were to fill an information gap about what is the greatest amount of wood that can be used in the construction and fit-out of commercial, large-scale buildings in New Zealand; and to provide Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) information about the benefits of maximising the use of wood in buildings.

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The Carbon Footprint of Multi-storey Buildings Using Different Construction Materials. 

This paper develops the concept of carbon footprinting for multi-storey buildings by extending the results from a recent New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry report. Life cycle assessment is used to quantify the green house gas emissions derived both from the production of the buildings’ materials (cradle-to-gate), as well as the total emissions over the full 60-year lifetime of the buildings (cradle-to-grave). The buildings use either timber or steel or concrete as the main structural material. The importance of considering the end-of-life disposal of building materials is highlighted. Using more timber in the construction of a multi-storey building can reduce the carbon footprint of that building. If the building materials provide a permanent, net removal of carbon from the atmosphere, then timber multi-storey buildings can have a significantly lower carbon footprint than equivalent steel or concrete buildings. 

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