Are some types of siding “greener” than others? Perhaps. But assessing the environmental impact of our siding choices is difficult.
A full environmental assessment should look at:
- The environmental effects of extracting raw materials from the environment
- How much energy is used to extract the raw materials
- How much energy is used to manufacture, transport, and install the siding
- The extent to which the manufacturing process may endanger workers’ health
- The environmental effects associated with the siding installation
- The environmental effects associated with the long-term maintenance of the siding
- The carbon released into the atmosphere associated with each of these steps
(Sharp-eyed readers will note that I have failed to list all the relevant factors in an environmental assessment. But you get the idea.)
Intuition isn’t very helpful here. While it’s true that wood and stone are “natural” choices, that doesn’t necessarily mean that installing red cedar siding or stone veneer has a low environmental impact. For example: do you know whether the loggers who are now cutting red cedar trees are environmentally responsible? Would our forests be healthier if these trees were allowed to keep growing rather than cut down for lumber?
Responsible harvesting or resource extraction is just one element of this type of assessment. Installation methods also matter—in part because installation methods affect siding longevity. Properly installed, stone veneer might last a century—or it might have to be demolished after only six years, if sloppy installation practices lead to water entry that rots the underlying OSB sheathing.
Adopting a wide perspective
For a variety of reasons, I don’t believe it is particularly instructive to base siding decisions on an attempted environmental impact assessment. In my opinion, if you want to be environmentally responsible:
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