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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wood versus substitute materials in residential construction Neilson, Ronald William


Residential construction has been a focus of attention in North America in recent years. Rising construction costs, and growing social pressures to meet housing needs have resulted in a concentrated effort by government and industry to develop new and improved building methods. Wood frame construction techniques, although traditional in Canada, are not guaranteed a dominant position in the future. With the high volume of wood products consumed in residential construction, the forest industries have a large stake in this market. Two aspects of declining wood use in housing have been investigated in this thesis: (1) changing methods of construction; and (2) substitution of non-wood building materials for wood. Although recent projections indicate a strong housing demand to 1980, the types of dwellings constructed are equally important, single-family units consuming the greatest volume of wood products, and high-rise apartments the least. A strong trend toward apartment construction has been evident since 1950, fostered by rapid urban population growth, mortgage investment preferences, the high cost of urban land, and the lower cost of rental accommodation. It is estimated that the loss of wood products markets from 1960 to 1969 due to this trend was 1,355 million bd. ft. of lumber, 245,075,000 sq. ft. of plywood and veneer, and 151,068,000 sq. ft. of building board. Functional suitability is probably the most important determinant of materials choice. Tradition, a factor which has favoured wood frame building, is losing its influence. Availability of materials and vertical integration are not significant factors in Canada. Upward trends in the price of wood products, price instability, and the much higher research and development expenditures in competing industries can be expected to result in an accelerated rate of substitution of other materials for wood. Although wood performs well in many applications, its combustibility has been a great disadvantage for construction uses. Building codes have significantly limited its use, but have also hindered the introduction of new building techniques, and products made of substitute materials. Products made of aluminum, plastics, steel, and non-metallic minerals have had varying degrees of success in the housing market. Numerous developments such as aluminum and steel structural systems, plastic and metal sandwich panels, and precast concrete building systems, offer potential competition to wood frame methods. Vertical integration with the building industry, and more active promotion of, and technical assistance in wood frame methods may help curb the trend to apartment construction. Greater efforts to reduce costs, higher research and development expenditures, increased activity in market research, and greater efforts to reduce price fluctuations are necessary to prevent higher rates of substitution. More effort should be concentrated on the development of foreign markets, both to help reduce price fluctuations, and to provide alternate markets for those lost through substitution.

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