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Sustainability Around the U

Building Resilience

Bark beetles are some of the most destructive insects in North American forests. These native insects bore into the bark of conifer trees and lay their eggs. As the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the inner bark of the trees which leaves the tree vulnerable to infection, or can fatally damage the tree. The beetle epidemic has caused a mass tree die off, which is not only a fire hazard but a risk to the surrounding ecosystem. University of Utah faculty member Ryan Smith has been researching a way to turn dead trees into resilient solutions for human-built environments by using these fallen trees as building materials.

Photo via Ryan Smith. Used with permission.

Smith will explain the role of wood and prefabricated material in sustainable construction at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, September 5 from 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Smith is the Director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Collaborative, Associate Professor in the School of Architecture, and Associate Dean of Research & Community Engagement in the College of Architecture + Planning.

“I’m interested in how we design and build the facilities that we occupy every day: our offices, our accommodations, especially our homes,” Smith said. “Not only optimizing operational energy but how we can reduce the carbon footprint of the materials with which we build our physical facilities.”

As a tree grows, it sequesters carbon. At the end of the tree’s life cycle, whether it is burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Harvesting trees through responsible forestry and placing them it inside a building can continue to store the sequestered carbon past the tree’s life cycle. Smith is working on producing a mass wood product that utilizes harvested trees from Intermountain forests and the Pacific Northwest that are infected with bark beetle.

“Wood is bar none the lowest embodied carbon structural material that we can employ in the service of buildings,” Smith stated. “But, the majority of our mid-rise buildings are made of steel and concrete. Our research is on the development and evaluation of products and processes that will move us into a future of midrise wood buildings.”

Photo via Ryan Smith. Used with permission.

Decisions about what type of material to use, where the materials come from, and the labor needed to build structures impacts the carbon footprint of the building. By making more sustainable choices, architects, planners, contractors, and engineers can lessen a building’s carbon footprint.

Smith will also discuss the ecological and social benefits of factory-produced panels, modules, components, and pods. Factory-built construction has lower waste and less travel time for laborers. Laborers in factories can stay in one place working while laborers on a construction site often have to go back and forth collecting materials.

“When you build in a factory you gain benefits that you don’t get when you are building on the job site,” Smith explained. “You can protect both the labor workforce and the public’s health, safety, and welfare by bringing construction operations into a controlled environment. Using a clean manufacturing processes can reduce fatal incidents significantly, improve quality dramatically, and reduce waste and environmental impact. This is in addition to the primary drivers for factory based wood construction – cost and schedule productivity improvements.”

To learn more about how wood and prefabricated components can answer some of our sustainability questions attend Smith’s lecture, “Building Systems: Ecological Design and Construction” on Tuesday, September 5 at 4 pm in 210 ASB.

Cover photo via Ryan Smith. Used with permission.

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