Today, the cost of traditional wood lumber building materials is climbing at an unprecedented rate. COVID-19 slowed wood product production, leading to shortages and, ultimately, skyrocketing prices.
If you’re a homeowner preparing for a home build, repair, or remodel, the rising costs could make your project far more expensive than you’d hoped. Luckily, wood lumber alternatives may offer you a solution.
If you’re curious about wood lumber alternatives, including what they are, what types are available, and what they can offer, here’s what you need to know.
What Are Wood Lumber Alternatives?
Wood lumber alternatives are building products that feature materials other than pure wood. Essentially, they are substitutes to traditional lumber, allowing you to move forward with a project even if wood lumber is too costly or in short supply.
Precisely what materials are involved can vary, as different manufacturers utilize a range of techniques and product compositions. However, they can still meet building codes and other legal standards; they just use alternative materials to make a building product that aligns with those specifications.
Plus, some offer additional benefits. Many wood lumber alternatives are weather-resistant, while some are even waterproof. Certain alternative materials are environmentally friendly, sustainable, or feature recycled material, which can make your project greener.
In some cases, you may be able to access finishes that you can’t find with natural wood as well. With the right finish, certain materials may not require painting or might have lower maintenance requirements, making them convenient over the long term, too.
Ultimately, wood lumber alternatives can be a great option. If you’re curious if one may work for your project, here’s a look at ten wood alternatives that are worth checking out.
10 Wood Lumber Alternatives for Your Next Project
While bamboo building materials can have the look of wood, it’s a far more sustainable material. Technically, bamboo is a grass, and it only takes three to five years to achieve a harvestable size. Plus, it regrows after cutting, allowing the same bamboo plants to be used repeatedly.
When it comes to strength and durability, many bamboo building materials perform incredibly well. They have capabilities similar to various kinds of wood, allowing many bamboo products to stand the test of time.
Another one of the more sustainable wood alternatives, hemp, is incredibly fast-growing. Plus, a single acre yields more construction-grade fiber than you can get with wood, which is beneficial to the construction industry and the environment.
Hemp has made its way into a range of wood alternatives in construction. Besides being a material in some composite lumber, it’s also a top-performer in medium-density fiberboard (MDF), offering more strength than its wood counterpart.
Plastic lumber is a type of composite that may or may not feature wood. It’s a growing segment in the building industry. Different plastic lumber products can serve as wood alternatives in construction projects of all kinds. While it’s most prominent in patio decking, as the material doesn’t require finishing or maintenance and is highly durable and weather-resistant, there is also structural plastic lumber.
In some cases, plastic lumber can be reasonably eco-friendly. There are recycled plastic wood products that help keep plastic waste out of landfills. However, not all products feature wood made from recycled plastic. So, if you’re eco-conscious, make sure you seek out recycled plastic wood instead of regular plastic timber.
Cork isn’t as widely used as some alternatives to lumber, but it can be a solid choice for flooring, wall coverings, and similar purposes. Instead of coming from the core of a tree, cork is made with bark. After it’s removed, the bark regrows reasonably quickly, making the material more sustainable than traditional wood.
It is important to note that there are pros and cons to cork. When used in flooring, it’s softer underfoot, as well as naturally insulating and fire-resistant. It also dampens sound, making your rooms quieter, and is hypoallergenic and antimicrobial.
When it comes to drawbacks, cork does fade faster when exposed to sunlight, and it can dent or scratch when struck with an object. Additionally, when exposed to water or significant changes in humidity, it can warp. Some versions are water-resistant, however, making them better at avoiding that kind of damage.
If you’re looking for alternative materials for wood frame construction, metal may do the trick. Structural steel studs are an investment, but they won’t warp, bow, or rot, meaning they will stand the test of time.
Aluminum is also used for a range of building projects. Roofs and siding are the most common examples, though aluminum construction materials can also be an excellent choice for staircases, decks, and certain other applications. There is also aluminum structural framing, though it isn’t commonly used in homes.
If you’re looking to make your project greener, aluminum and steel are great choices. Both are considered very environmentally friendly, particularly if the product is made with recycled metal.
6. Fiber Cement
When it comes to siding, fiber cement has long been a wood alternative. It’s another composite material, this time featuring a mix of cement, sand, and cellulose fiber, which may or may not come from wood pulp. It’s more weather-resistant than natural wood and also offers exceptional durability.
Since the fiber cement can be molded, it can have a range of textures. You can find smooth finishes, woodgrain texture, and more.
Another one of the alternatives to wood frame construction, concrete builds are energy efficient, low maintenance, and very durable. The material resists rot and insect damage, something that wood doesn’t inherently offer. Plus, concrete walls are fire resistant and can slow the spread of a blaze, leading to less property damage overall.
Along with concrete block builds, it’s possible to use poured concrete during construction. This can give some design options that may be hard to capture with other materials, as the concrete flows when poured, making it easier to steer to create almost any kind of shape.
8. Foam Board
If you’re looking for an alternative to plywood, foam board may be a great solution. It’s highly insulating and is very lightweight, allowing just one person to move sheets around easily. Plus, they are durable and waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about warping or rotting. You can also find foam board in a range of densities, allowing you to choose the option that works best for your project.
For anyone who appreciates green construction materials, rubber products might be your ideal alternative building materials to wood. Many manufacturers are recycling tires to create a range of items, including durable flooring, insulation, roofing, and more.
Rubber lumber alternatives can be harder to find, as they don’t always make their way into home improvement stores. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t accessible to those who have their heart set on it, particularly if you’re working with a contractor for a custom build or remodeling project.
10. Wood Composites
Wood composites are technically alternative materials for wood in construction. While it may feature wood in the mix, it is combined with a range of other materials, such as hemp, bamboo, or plastic.
It’s also mixed with a binding agent, many of which provide the product with protection from the elements or make painting and sealing unnecessary. Options like composite decking require little if any maintenance, which can be ideal for many property owners.
One of the benefits of wood composites is it gives scraps from lumber production a home. This can make it an environmentally friendly product, as it reduces overall production waste.