The typical American home has a ton of wood in it. Some of it you can see with the naked eye, the rest is hidden behind the walls and under the floors. But is it possible to build a complete house without using any wood at all? And if so, why doesn’t anyone do it?
You absolutely can build homes without wood. History is replete with examples. Even today, there are place where wood is not used extensively. But here in the States, wood remains a staple of home construction. It is cheap, plentiful, and easy to work with.
To understand why wood is such a popular building material, let us discuss how you might build a home if wood were completely off the table.
Masonry Foundation and Walls
Every house starts with a foundation. These days, foundations are masonry. Slabs are concrete while foundation walls are built with cinder blocks. Incidentally, cinder blocks are made with Portland cement and a coal burning byproduct known as cinders.
On top of the foundation you build the home’s exterior walls. In the absence of wood, these could also be masonry. In hurricane prone states, cinder blocks are already a popular option. However, you could also do brick. The big downside to both is cost.
Two other options are poured concrete and prefab wall panels made from a composite material. They would go up faster than cinder blocks or brick, but they would also cost a fortune.
Your interior walls could be masonry or metal. If you chose the latter, you would probably want aluminum studs. They go up just as quickly and easily as wood studs. However, they are more expensive. The nice thing about aluminum studs is that you can hang drywall from them easily.
Window and Door Casings
If you were intent on building a home with absolutely no wood, window and door casings would present an extra challenge. However, there are options. Casings can be fabricated with masonry, aluminum, steel, and composites. Sashes and decorative molding could be fashioned from composites or foam.
Another challenge in a no-wood home is interior flooring. A single-story dwelling could be built on top of a concrete slab, thus eliminating the need for any other materials. But a multi-level dwelling is different. You would have to construct floors with a material light enough to be safely supported but sturdy enough to walk on. Composites immediately come to mind.
Your only other choice would be to build a much stronger structure capable of supporting concrete or metal floors. That is what designers do with skyscrapers. But from a pure cost standpoint, it is impractical for residential homes.
All of the other wood found in a typical American home could be replaced with other materials. For example, Salt Lake City Utah’s Modern Craftsman says metal cabinetry can support a custom concrete countertop just fine. Composites could be used for all cabinetry attached to the walls. Wood furniture could be replaced by pieces made from metal, concrete, and a variety of composites.
As you are imagining all this, you may be thinking that it sounds terribly unattractive. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons wood remains so popular among homeowners. We just like its look. But more importantly, wood is extremely cheap to produce and work with. Therein lies the real explanation.
We have the ability and technology to construct entire homes without any wood at all. But building such a house would be time-consuming and cost prohibitive. Until that changes, wood will remain the preferred building material.