How do I select construction materials for my new sustainable home? Wood!

Been green can be very simple, when you decide to have a new costarican tropical modern architecture project. You can choose to go for Leed credits, but there are also many ways to achieve sustainability in more simple ways.

Besides having a house designed on a passive design strategy basis, you can also start working on selecting the right building materials for your eco-home. Wood is a very versatile material, used many years ago. Ecologically speaking, wood comes from a rapidly renewable alive source and it reduces CO2 emissions in a natural way.In general there are 3 main wood types: soft and rapidly renewable woods, semi-hard woods and hard-dense woods and exotic woods.

Stairs feature a wood and metal combination.

Soft woods like “Melina” Gmelina arborea Roxb, San Juan Vochsya guatemalensis, Caobilla Carapa guianensis Abul, are used in furniture construction, interior finishes. Never use them on a deck, you would have to replace them the sooner you think. There is also engineered Melina for columns and beams.

Semi-hard woods like “Laurel” Cordia alliodora Cham, “Jaul” Alnus acuminata Kunth, Guanacaste Enterolobium Cyclocarpum Griseb, “Gavilan” Pentaclethra macroloba, “Eucalipto” Eucalyptus deglupta, “Cedro amargo” Cedrela odorata,”Botarrama” Voychysia ferruginea are used for more structural purposes like beams, columns and trusses. Also floors, ceiling finishes and some carpentry.

Hard woods like “Teca” Tectona grandis, “Sura” Termininalia oblonga “Roble Colorado” Quercus costarricensis, “ Roble Blanco” Quercus copeyensis, “Pilon” Hieronyma alchorneiodes, and “Cenizaro” Samanea saman, are used for structural purposes as well but are more durable in terms of resisting insect attacks, humidity, under water uses, outdoors and heavy construction.

Be aware to follow some simple tips when selecting wood:

  • Be sure you use wood from certified forests, otherwise you would be contributing to destroy primary forests. Please visit to know which companies grow their forests in an approved sustainable environment.
  • Do not accept endangered or precious wood species. They generally come from the black market, and are banned by the Decreto Ejecutivo de Veda #23700 MINAE. Specially on rural towns, you will be offered with Laurel Negro,Cocobolo, Cristobal,Cachimbo,Balsamo Nazareno, Cedar, Tamarindo, Caoba and Almendro. Please do not select the mentioned species. Teak, Melina and Corteza are suggested species that are not endangered yet.
  • Select local wood providers, don’t spend money on long transportations. This will increase CO2 emissions.
  • If you’re going to use plywood, please select the ones with no formaldehyde nor MDF in its gluing components.
  • Select woods that won’t need any additional wood treatments, some types of woods are really resistive at impregnant applications. This also depends on where you locate this wood, exterior applications are one of the hardest in the tropics for example decks or horizontal uses.If you have to use these products, then select the ones with a green seal, water based.  Ask your architect about the best practice for your selected material. There’s a big variety on applications. Be prepared to apply treatments to decks 2 times a year minimum. If it’s a beach home, prepare for more maintenance.
  • One interesting wood protector is bee’s wax. It’s natural and it’s cheap ( for 15 000 colones a gallon you can treat up  80 squared meters). This ecological application is a much better option for those who really want to be sustainable.
1 comment
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