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House of carbon: Your home stores carbon for decades

Sarah Farmer
Southern Research Station

A picture of a house in the background and a wood fence in the foreground.
The wood used in people’s houses is important when it comes to storing carbon. Even after the wood used in buildings reaches the end of its useful life and ends up in a landfill, it continues to store carbon for many years. (GettyImages photo by Michael Brinson)

Wood is infinitely useful. Look around, and you’ll find it in all sorts of places, from cardboard boxes to pianos. It is even used in some frames for bikes and cars. If you live in the U.S., wood was also likely used to build your home. All these wood-based items are valuable to people in their own way. They also help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by storing carbon.

The wood used in people’s houses may be particularly important when it comes to storing carbon. According to a new Southern Research Station study, the wood used to build and maintain houses will continue to store large amounts of carbon for the next 50 years.

A picture showing a large stack of lumber; looks to be 2x4 boards.
Trees are part of the carbon cycle and continue storing carbon even after they are harvested and used to build homes. (USDA Forest Service photo)

“As trees grow, they pull carbon from the atmosphere and the soil. When trees are harvested to make products like lumber for homes, some of that carbon continues to be stored,” says Jeff Prestemon, lead author of the study and research economist with the Southern Research Station.

Even after the wood used in buildings reaches the end of its useful life and ends up in a landfill, it does not immediately release its carbon. It continues to store that carbon for many years. In this way, wood retains its storage capacity for several more decades.

A picture showing a new construction house being framed with wood.
A metric ton weighs over 2,000 pounds. Between initial building and repairs, one average size house can store almost a hundred metric tons of carbon dioxide. (Courtesy photo GettyImages photo by ArtistGNDphotography)

Between initial building and repairs, one average house can store almost a hundred metric tons of carbon dioxide. And in the U.S., where more than 90% of new single-family homes are built with wood, the carbon stored in homes quickly adds up.

Houses store so much carbon that figuring out how many will be built in the future is important for understanding the total U.S. carbon storage capacity.

“The wood used to build houses will remain an increasing, significant component of the overall forest carbon sink – regardless of whether the U.S. population grows or shrinks, and regardless of high or low economic growth,” says Prestemon.

The researchers examined how population growth and income can project the number of new homes that may be built in the future.

A picture of unprocessed logs in a mill yard.
National forests are a vital source of domestic lumber used to make homes. (USDA photo by Karen Williams)

“It is likely that fewer homes will be built in the coming decades,” says Prestemon. “However, existing homes will need repairs and renovations, which require wood. Our research suggests that even if new home construction declines, the amount of carbon stored in wood products will increase.”

 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/house-carbon-your-home-stores-carbon-decades