Why are houses build in wood in North America?

It seems to me that the wide majority of houses in the USA and Canada are build in wood. That’s a building material rarely used over here (and I would guess in most of Europe). People have their houses build in bricks, cinder blocks, concrete, stone, whatever, extremely rarely with wood.

If it was a regional thing (because of availabily of materials, climate, tradition, etc…), I would understand, but it seems widespread from Ontario to Texas. So what are the reasons for this?

Also, aren’t wood houses less sturdy and wouldn’t this be a problem in particular in areas prone to natural disaters, as some US regions are (I’m thinking of hurricanes and tornadoes)?

Brick houses fall down in earthquakes:

Because there’s a lot of wood. Much of Europe was deforested a long time ago, but North America has huge reserves of lumber and (now) sustainable forestry programs to maintain it. It’s also a lot cheaper and faster than building with brick or concrete, but there’s no shortage of brick or concrete block residences in the US.

Not if you do it right. There are plenty of wooden buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years. Modern building methods and materials make wood-framed housing surprisingly resilient. Still, if a tornado rips off your roof, it really doesn’t matter what the rest of the house is made of. Most damage from storms is mostly caused by roof and window failures, which lead to catastrophic damage of the interior. It’s very rare for the building structure as a whole to fail, though.

Wood houses that keep standing for hundreds of years?? Color me skeptical. Especially that have been standing for that long without the benefits of recent advanced treatment methods.

While we are at it, can anyone explain the prevalence of wooden tiles on roofs(shingles)? Oh - and cladding walls with plastic or aluminum (siding?)

More than a thousand years, actually, though doubtless you have repairs and replacements all the time. Remember, before the “old” capital of Kyoto, there was Nara.


I live next to a wooden house that was built in 1785. Still standing, and no “advanced treatment methods”. This in a harsh, four-season environment.

My house is 125yrs old and built of wood and brick. Earliest homes in my city were made of wood because it was cheapest. In Canada there are still large untapped forests of wood.

But bricks insulate better against the cold. Not only that, but cold temps mean fires / furnaces. Which present fire hazards. Brick becomes a better choice, but can’t really be utilized until settlements develop brick building factories. By necessity they are preceded by wooden structures and the skills to build them come before sophisticated brick and stone structures, at least for the common man.

I’m unfamiliar, but aren’t the stone and brick buildings in Europe similarly finished with wooden interior features?

But there are places where Europeans *do *build with wood, or did historically - the Alps, Scandinavia,the Baltics and Germany (and Alsace, in France), England, even Normandy. Does pan de bois mean anything to you?

Not co-incidentally, the original US settlers were English and Germany & Scandinavia were big sources for immigration to the US.

Probably some cultural inertia then set in - Europe moved to brick from wood as deforestation became more prevalent and urbanization accelerated, the US didn’t have to outside the cities (where stone and brick are the norm if all those brownstones I keep seeing are anything to go by).

Actually, as I understand it, the move away from wood in England was largely due to the devastating fires in the 17th century. Expensive houses were made with timber frames and brick or plaster infill, but poorer houses were made with cheap clay bricks. Of course the Romans favoured brick over wood, although their bricks were more like tiles.

By UK standards American houses look flimsy. (I see people ‘flipping’ houses on TV). Only cheap houses here would have internal walls all made of wood and plasterboard. My internal walls are all solid blocks. We do tend to have wooden floors and joists, and roof trusses are nearly always timber, but roofing is mostly slate or tile.

My guess is that tradition plays a large part. In this country, you might have problems mortgaging a timber house due to the perception of higher risk.

It was doubtless one factor, especially in London, but other factors also feature, including scarcity of wood (Stuart England looked to New England and the Baltic for ship timbers), pure fashion (this was the time of the rise of Brick Renaissance in Northern Europe and England wasn’t an isolated backwater) and probably improved architectural techniques as well.

There are houses in New England that have stood since the founding of the colonies. (Linkfor the oldest houses in Massachusetts.) Naturally, upkeep is done on them, but for a house to be usable, upkeep has to occur no matter what it’s made of.

They’re nothing on Horyuji in Japan, but they’re not bad.

Yes, I had one myself in Massachusetts, built in 1760, and my daughters still live in it. They aren’t even that rare. My ex-inlaws have a huge farmhouse in New Hampshire built in 1790. There is a much older one down the street built in the 1600’s.

There are some misconceptions about what ‘upkeep’ requires for antique wood houses. It basically means just keeping it occupied, un-burnt down and unflooded. It doesn’t require replacing all the wood over time in a Washington’s axe kind of way. Almost all of the structure itself including the floors and fireplaces are completely original.

Many people seem to think that wood naturally rots over time but that isn’t true at least for quality wood under some conditions. Quality hardwood lasts indefinitely as long as it has the opportunity to dry out regularly. Wooden structural beams can also get incredibly hard as their resin hardens over time. In my 1760’s house, it is extremely difficult to nail or screw into some of the original door frames because they are so hard. You are more likely to bend a nail or screw than you are to make even a dent in it.

According to tables that you can find here: http://inspectapedia.com/insulation/Insulation_Values_Table.php, wood has 2 to 3 times the insulating value as brick.

My house in Montreal is quite typical, wood framing clad partly in brick and partly in stucco. Wood is a wonderful material to work with. And its flexibility would seem to make it better than brick in an earthquake.

Actually, internal walls these days in the UK are more likely to be made from metal frames and plasterboard with infilled insulation. Solid brick internal walls is an antiquated method of building which doesn’t allow for proper insulation and damp proofing.

In fact, brick exteriors are more facade than integral construction these days in any case. Most buildings in the UK now are built with a combination of wood or metal frame, insulation and cement particle board, clad afterwards in whatever the architect fancies - brick, render, stone, and yes, even timber cladding. This idea that we build in brick and America builds in wood is pretty old school.

What’s more, most roof tiles in the UK are actually made of concrete (see MarleyEternit, the industry leader in roofing materials).

Which internal features do you mean? I won’t speak for Europe as it’s too diverse (southern Italy favours marble over wood for floors, for example), but wood generally appears in the UK in internal doors, sometimes window frames, banisters, sometimes floors, sometimes kitchen work surfaces, sometimes fireplaces, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Is that what you mean?

Other than the natural hazard scenario (earthquake survivability of non-reinforced masonry is deplorable) I would think its a combination of tradition, fashion and local resource availability.

Especially in older times when transport logistics were not so global, if your local area didn’t have ready sources of clay and cheap fuel for a furnace, but had plenty of forests, guess what most houses are going to be made from? Following on, what tradition and taste will therefore develop , and what *human *resource will develop? I know around here, if i want to build a house from brick there are a million skilled tradesmen. If I want to build a house from wooden stick framing, I’m going to find it much, much harder to find a skilled tradesman. Other side of the country, opposite is often true. What we have where I live is an effectively unlimited huge clay resource, traditionally cheap natural gas and the worlds largest brickworks. Over east (one area I’m thinking of in particular) there is a massively developed forestry industry.

Anyway I’m sure demographics and long held traditions play into it as well.

We have lots of wood here in America.

Sometimes we wake up with it.

Europe is full of old wooden houses also. Log cabin and timber frame house building techniques were brought here from Europe. Brick and stone are still popular building materials here also. You have to take a look at where people live. Brick will be in greater use in densely populated areas that support a brick making industry. Before railroads bricks wouldn’t have been shipped too far. Stone buildings are found all over this country, and adobe is heavily used in the southwest.

My pet peeve. Every house around here is being covered with vinyl siding no matter how it was built originally. It’s like living in Legoland.