America’s Obsession with Wood – What Gives?

Interior with white armchair and wooden staircase 3d render

Step out of the United States and you will discover that wood isn’t the only material for building homes. Residential construction in other countries is just as likely to feature materials like stone and concrete. But here, we have been building with wood since those first explorers set foot on the East Coast. Why? What is our obsession with wood all about?

We have come a long way in terms of developing building materials. For example, concrete has gotten a lot better over the last hundred years or so. We have become pretty adept at building commercial structures with steel. Even carbon fiber is an option.

Wood is still the big thing in our homes. People drool over hardwood floors. They love wood crown molding and baseboards. And when it comes to furniture, more wood is better. Is it cultural? Is it financial?

  • Cheap and Easy to Work With

It is hard to argue against building with wood when you consider how cheap and easy it is to work with. Financially speaking, wood is an easily renewable resource that doesn’t take a whole lot to produce. You plant trees and let them grow. After harvest, wood can be processed by machine to create the necessary lumber for building. Assembling wood to create a home doesn’t require any complex processes.

By contrast, building with concrete takes a lot more time, effort, and financial investment. You have to be a lot more precise with building foundations. Conditions for pouring have to be just right. The mixture between water, cement, and aggregate also has to be right, or a pour can go south really quickly.

  • Wood Has That Look

There is something else about wood that appeals to Americans. It has a certain look, according to Salt Lake City’s Modern Craftsman. That look is the rustic look we so often associate with America’s ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality.

To some people, nothing but wood will do. These are people who truly appreciate mountain modern architecture in places like Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah. They would feel equally at home in a rustic mountain cabin and a vintage colonial with gum wood throughout.

Speaking of gum wood, it was all the rage throughout the first half of the 20th century. Houses built in the 1920s and 30s boasted gum wood floors, baseboards, crown molding, door and window frames, etc. There was so much gum wood in a typical Victorian that you would be hard-pressed to find any other species.

  • Fake Wood Floors

It could be that our 21st century obsession with wood really has nothing to do with the material itself. It’s just the look. If you need evidence, look no further than fake wood floors. Vinyl flooring made to look like natural wood is all the rage. People love it. Why? Because they get the look of wood without the expense or maintenance.

In fairness, fake wood floors made from vinyl look pretty good. Still, it is easy to see that you’re not walking on the real thing. To some people, fake wood floors are the equivalent of putting fake flowers in the garden. They may look pristine and perfect most of the time, but everyone still knows they are fake.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the federal government suddenly placed a moratorium on all wood. Would builders rub to concrete and steel? Would they trend toward more modern materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber? There is no way to tell. Quite frankly, there’s no need to imagine. It is hard to believe Americans will ever stop building with wood.