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Local Food, Local Wood

Can we use more local lumber from local sawmills for home construction?

Posted on Mar 12 2009 by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

I picked up my weekly box of locally grown organic food today — not exactly a farm co-op, commonly knows as a CSA, but a small, farm-based business that distributes these fine products to individuals and restaurants in the region. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, and it is interesting that what's in the box — the contents of which are unknown to me until I open it — dictates my diet now, rather than what looks good to me in the market. Right now cabbage, root vegetables, and lettuce are in season, so I’m eating more of those. I also got some nice strawberries and some peppers. I never ate last week’s peppers, so I am currently on overload. Maybe it’s time for chile rellenos.

The quality is excellent, and the price, while not as cheap as the supermarket, is less than Whole Foods, and I feel good that I am supporting local businesses.

Why do we buy wood from across the country when it is available around the corner?
This concept of buying local got me thinking about the national and global industries that I have been railing about recently. From cheap Chinese and Korean electronics and tools to framing lumber shipped from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast, we are addicted to getting the lowest-priced product, no matter how far it travels to get to us.

The standard framing lumber used in the southeast is spruce/pine/fir, logged and milled in the western U.S. and Canada. It's inexpensive, easy to work, and readily available, and contractors rarely think twice about how far it travels to their job sites. I live awfully close to what an old bluegrass song refers to as “Georgia Piney Woods,” but rarely do I see any local wood used for studs in buildings around here.

Low price/long distance is not a good long-term strategy
Up until a few decades ago, this very lumber was used almost exclusively in home construction, and those homes have held up very well over time. What market forces have caused this change, and is it for the better? It could be the fact that local yellow pine is harder and more prone to warping than the western white woods. It is certainly tougher to work with, and in our do-it-fast, do-it-cheap world, this is an inconvenience by which we simply cannot abide.

Like buying local food when it is available and in season, we should work to change our behavior and use the perfectly suitable lumber that is harvested practically in our backyards instead of shipping truckloads of it thousands of miles across the country. We may have to work a little harder, but, like eating locally grown, in-season foods instead of exactly-what-I-want-when-I-want it, using local products and reducing our global impact in the process might just be better for us.


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1.
Thu, 03/19/2009 - 11:16

Local Wood?
by T.C. Feick

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Carl- Southern Yellow Pine is regionally available in the southeast, and in the northeast most of our SPF (especially in narrows) comes from maine, NH, vermont, and southeastern canada. I agree that regional sourcing is a no brainer.


2.
Thu, 03/19/2009 - 13:47

SYP
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

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I know that SYP is available in the south, my point is that it is not used for much anymore. Studs are mostly SPF from the northwest, joists are mostly TJIs or Trusses. We have this great supply of lumber that does not see much use.


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