Engineered wood has many things going for it in the green home category.  We have already mentioned that, while wood is a sustainable and renewable building material it does not grow big enough quickly enough to that there is enough of the resource still growing out there to satisfy the need for building products while allowing trees to provide all of their other benefits such cleaner air, rainwater recycling, and erosion control.

Engineered wood products are generally manufactured from fast growing, underutilized, and readily replenished wood species such as aspen and poplar.  Their use helps to reduce logging pressures in older, more valuable forests.

Engineered wood also does a better job utilizing the trees that are cut.  One manufacturer estimates that solid lumber makes use of only 63 percent of a tree while manufacturing a composite panel product uses 95 percent of the tree.  And, as previously noted, much engineered wood is formed from scraps, shavings, and even pre-used wood.  One product, MDF core paneling, is manufactured from such "residuals" and is used in place of luan wood which is primarily harvested in rain forest areas such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brazil.

However, not all engineered word products contain actual wood.  Some are made from recycled plastic (those discarded soda bottles), sunflower hulls, corn stalks, wheat straw, and other agricultural and non-agricultural byproducts.

Homasote, for example, is a fiberboard that has been around for a long time.  It is made of recycled paper (the manufacturer mentions lottery tickets as one ingredient) and is often used as a sound barrier under wallboard or other sheathing.  Homasote contains no formaldehyde or asbestos and has excellent resistance to insects, moisture, and mold.  It is also completely biodegradable, hitting a grand slam for eco-friendliness.

One concern about engineered wood is the possibility of off-gassing of formaldehyde and chemicals used in the lamination process.

All wood species naturally contain and emit small amounts of formaldehyde so there is no such thing as "formaldehyde-free" wood.  While the amount emitted is very small - 0.009 parts per million (ppm) from an oak tree - a dense forest can have much higher concentrations. Since trees contain formaldehyde, so do products made from it.  (For information about the health risks of formaldehyde see "Formaldehyde - Beware of High Levels at Home" published on September 30 on this blog.)

The American Plywood Association (APA) states that plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) manufactured to U.S. Product Standards have such low emission levels that "they are exempt from the leading formaldehyde emission standards and regulations."

Likewise, APA says that the adhesives, primarily phenol formaldehyde and diphenylethane diiscocyanate use in engineered wood manufacturing are chemically reacted into stable bonds during the pressing of the wood and thus have such low formaldehyde emission levels that they meet or are exempt from leading emission standards world-wide.

Still, there is some debate over the safety of these adhesives so if a family member is chemically sensitive it would be advisable to do more extensive research.

The Forest Stewardship Council, an independent non-governmental international organization was formed in 1993 and sets environmental standards for the forestry industry.  The Council advises consumers to buy products with the FSC logo to ensure that the manufacturer supports forestry methods that meet the highest standards for environmentally and socially responsible forest management.