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Environmental Guide

Embodied energy of common building materials
Source: Adapted from


Hardwood & Embodied Energy
Industrial processing of all natural resources into forms useable by people requires energy, most often in the form of fossil fuels. In burning fossil fuels to release energy, carbon is also released into the atmosphere. A measure of the amount of energy used to prepare, for example, building materials from iron ore, bauxite or forests, is embodied energy. Embodied energy is a useful way to compare the environmental friendliness of building materials.

Compared with other common building materials such as steel, aluminium and concrete, hardwood timber not only stores carbon it uses up to 85-times less energy in processing. In simple terms, a concrete slab floor uses 60% more energy than a timber floor, double brick walls use almost 5-times more energy than weatherboards on timber framing, and an aluminium window uses 45% more energy than an equivalent timber window. The substitution of timber elements for more energy expensive products in the building process results in a worthwhile energy saving. Even highly processed timber products, such as glue laminated timber, store more carbon within their structure than is released by their manufacture.

Buildings are seldom constructed of a single material, so the embodied energy of a structure depends on the mix of materials used. Research continues to refine the measurement of embodied energy of buildings. One analysis suggests that construction of a brick-veneer house with timber framing gives savings of about 8.8 tonnes of CO2 per house compared with double brick construction(Attiwill et al 2001).

CO2 production from construction materials used in an average Australian House



Timber-frame brick veneer saves 8.8 tonnes of CO2 per house compared with double brick construction.

So remember when selecting materials for your next project, timber is processed from a renewable resource - an actively growing, sustainably managed forest - making it the material of choice for environmentally aware consumers