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"why americans build wooden houses?" Topic

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11,615 hits since 26 May 2011
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ghostdog Inactive Member26 May 2011 8:50 p.m. PST

ok, i know that they are cheaper, but whenever i see in tv news about twister devastation in the US , i wonder why people build wooden houses instead of brick houses, when you know that there is a teister season, a hurricane season, etc… It looks extrange, seen from europe.
Maybe are there any good reasons?

kyoteblue Inactive Member26 May 2011 8:56 p.m. PST


SECURITY MINISTER CRITTER Inactive Member26 May 2011 9:13 p.m. PST

Brick houses blow away too though.



Whatisitgood4atwork Inactive Member26 May 2011 9:16 p.m. PST

Like my country they have plenty of trees, and it is a very good building material. I understand many homes in twister country now often have a concrete block core in which to take shelter. Perhaps not enough.

Mr Pumblechook Inactive Member26 May 2011 9:29 p.m. PST

Why not build partially or fully underground?

Probably expensive, and requiring good drainage…

And you'd start shrinking and getting hairy feet and wanting round doors…

Whatisitgood4atwork Inactive Member26 May 2011 9:56 p.m. PST

Brick veneer certainly would. That's just brick over a wood frame. But the UK / European style of double brick with filling material between should stand up nearly as well as a concrete block structure.

I say nearly because AFAIK, they don't use steel reinforcing.

zippyfusenet Inactive Member27 May 2011 4:34 a.m. PST

Wood construction is lots cheaper than brick.

I won't live in a wooden house. I'm not worried about tornados; if one of those hits your brick house, it will rip your roof off and fling you and your furniture into the next county. I've seen a couple of wooden buildings burn like a box of matches. Yes, the contents of a brick building will also burn, but not as readily, not as fast, not as completely. I paid more money for my home and bought less space, but brick is lower maintenance and I sleep better at night.

A good thing about the US is that we have lots of choices.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2011 5:25 a.m. PST

If an EF5 comes through, the only safe place would be
underground. Don't know how deep, though.

The tornadoes which came through NC mid-April demolished
brick, block, wood, and concrete structures, or damaged
them severely.

Klebert L Hall Inactive Member27 May 2011 6:19 a.m. PST

People are cheap, and like to gamble.

Chances are, you won't get hit by a tornado, or a hurricane, or a wildfire, even though those things are relatively common where you live.

So, you pretend that "it'll never happen to you", and go cheap, instead of building on top of a hill / a fireproof house / out of reinforced concrete / underground.

It's easy enough to build a house to withstand most disasters (not earthquakes, as much), but it costs more money and often looks strange.

Zoning doesn't take steps for safety either, it mostly cares about making money and upholding "community standards".

Jana Wang Inactive Member27 May 2011 6:45 a.m. PST

It's a significant cost increase and a hassle to deal with the building contractors. Many people buy a home on credit and make payments they can barely afford. A better built home just isn't an option for many. Then there are those who can only afford a 'mobile home' which is little more than an aluminum shell on a concrete pad -- and often the first type of home to get destroyed in a tornado or hurricane.

To add to this, in a lot of places in the south, where tornadoes hit, the ground is not stable enough to build homes with subterranean basements. Again, it would be very expensive to excavate and stabilize the soil in order to have a basement to hide in.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2011 7:11 a.m. PST

Let's not forget the mathematical odds.
The satelite map of Joplin shows a wide path, to be sure, but there is also a vast area that is relatively untouched.
If you are in the bulls eye,of a monster tornado, you are screwed, no matter what the building is made of.
The vast majority of homes in Tornado Alley will fall down from old age before they ever see a twister.

It's what is far out of the ordinary that gets our attention.

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian27 May 2011 7:28 a.m. PST

We have had times when we needed lots of houses FAST. Also in some areas (earthquake prone) Stick or Frame construction "gives" better and tends to less damage.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2011 8:33 a.m. PST

Speaking as a Brit, I just don't get the cost arguement.

America is richer than Britain – your average income per head is higher than ours. We have a far greater population density leading to a shortage of housing and much higher property prices.

But almost all housing here is built from brick/concrete – wooden buildings are rare apart from stables and sheds!

America must be able to afford better buildings than those made from wood.

Martin Rapier27 May 2011 9:04 a.m. PST

Housing was, and often still is, built from whatever building materials are available within a sensible local distance. Not many flint built houses up in Sheffield, but plenty of stone ones, an unsurprisingly lots of red brick houses around the London Brick Company factory near Bedford.

There are a lot of trees in the USA, we cut all ours down to build the Royal Navy.

House PRICES aren't determined by the cost of the raw materials to build them, but by the cost and availabiity of credit. Construction costs are however based partly on raw material costs.

zippyfusenet Inactive Member27 May 2011 9:36 a.m. PST

Cerdic: America is richer than Britain – your average income per head is higher than ours. We have a far greater population density leading to a shortage of housing and much higher property prices.

This is edging toward Blue Fez territory, but I'll risk it.

America is richer than Britain, but Americans aren't necessarily richer than Britons. Our income distribution has been becoming more uneven for decades, with wealth concentrated in the topmost fraction of the population while our middle class declines and workers slip into poverty. This is an observed fact, I won't argue about the reasons for it.

Housing on average is cheaper in the US than in Europe because we still have a lot of cheap land. The main factor that determines the price of a house here is location. I paid more for a house in the city, because I like city life. I could have gotten more house for my money out in the far new suburbs where land is cheapest, but I prefer to live two blocks from Mt. Lookout Square, and walk to shopping and entertainment. I still have to commute to work in my car, but at least I'm centrally located, so I don't have to drive an hour one-way, clear across town. Americans spend less on housing than Britons do, but more on transportation. One car per adult is a necessity these days. Cheap gasoline is a necessity here, European levels of taxation on fuel would wipe out many family budgets.

The recent housing boom/current bust was brought about by financial chicanery that put people with inadequate and/or unstable incomes into newly built houses that they really couldn't afford. That's all unraveling now. Americans still aspire to home ownership where Britons are more resigned to renting, but it seems this model is no longer sustainable for us, no matter how cheaply we build the houses.

Eclectic Wave Inactive Member27 May 2011 9:40 a.m. PST

Great, a brick house, so instead of the roof, contents and walls being torn to shreds, only the roof and the contents are torn the shreds. Don't care how tough your walls are, your roof is still wood, and a twister is going to turn your roof into kindling.

Brick walls are not going to save anyone. A totally bricked room, or a basement, will.

GypsyComet27 May 2011 12:01 p.m. PST

In earthquake country, on the other hand, wood frame houses are more suited to the disaster. Unless you go to the considerable expense of building the special foundations needed for a less flexible structure to ride out a quake, brick, block, and steel tend to deform catastrophically. Above a certain size a steel building gains some flexibility. but below that the wall materials dominate the structure's response to a quake.

Who asked this joker27 May 2011 12:43 p.m. PST

If an EF5 comes through, the only safe place would be
underground. Don't know how deep, though.

I remember in grade school we learned about tornadoes. The special guest speaker said that ideally you would want to find a ditch if you were caught outside. Failing that, hit the ground where you are. Even laying down in a street side gutter/curb will provide some protection. Of course, that assumes you don't get hit by flying debris.

I imagine it would take an extremely strong structure to stand up to a tornado the size of the one in Joplin.

SpaceCudet Inactive Member27 May 2011 1:06 p.m. PST

The residents of Birmingham, UK can tell you how well bricks stand up to tornadoes: link

Americans still aspire to home ownership where Britons are more resigned to renting

Britain has one of the highest home ownership rates. According to, ahem, Wikipedia the percentage of ownership is 69% in UK and 68% in US.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2011 1:13 p.m. PST

not an expert but did build our home 11 years ago. First to build a brick home the land has to be able to support the extra load or it will slowly sink. Also I was able to build a home from wood with a full basement on one acre of land at about 86k. For me to have built the same home from brick it would have cost me almost double. The materials were a bit more expensive but it was the labor to hire people with the skills to do the brick work that made the price way out of my reach to afford. So instead we built our home from wood. Put extra protection in it by "bolting" the walls to the concrete foundation. Put special straps in the roof to give it extra strength from high winds. A tornado can still destroy the home. So thats why we built a basement to protect the family and have insurance to rebuild if its destroyed. We also have in the basement "tough boxes" with tents and supplies to use if we lose the home. So for us its more of a matter of being prepared for the worse than trying to beat mother nature. lol Having lived in Illinois since I was a kid, I have been in three tornados. thanks god nothing like what has hit Joplin and some other communities. But I have seen the roofs that were ripped off brick buildings and the wind cause the walls to cave in.

Personal logo Jlundberg Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2011 5:41 p.m. PST

I live in an area that rarely sees even an f1 tornado. Lots of snow, but no tornadoes, no hurricanes, almost no earthquakes of any kind. Most places it would be cheaper to rebuild than to build a Tornado "proof" house. I have pictures of a pickup truck tossed into a hospital room by a realtively weak tornado. The Hospital was brick and concrete. You could build like the maginot line, but would be too costly. Americans are also in a hurry and want things NOW.

Jovian1 Inactive Member27 May 2011 11:44 p.m. PST

Have you ever tried to pay for a concrete bunker with iron grated windows? Would you want to live in one? It's like asking why don't all Americans live in million dollar homes? Have you put together the costs of a home which would withstand an F5 tornado? Frighteningly expensive as the large tornadoes can still damage even some concrete structures.

The G Dog Fezian Inactive Member28 May 2011 8:40 a.m. PST

As a counter-point. I live about 17 miles from Zippy. I'm on the edge of the country (still hear roosters in the morning). I've got the 'current' state of the art home – frame house with brick facings and vinyl clad aluminum siding on a tiny lot in a densely packed subdivision.

I've got a basement for shelter (and gaming). A car is a must. But its America – we've built an automotive culture that requires a car for all but a few select areas (New York, San Francisco and a few other major cities.

While buying a home is a complex decision, it boiled down to I looked at my budget and figured out what I could reasonably afford. Hazards at minimized (out of the flood plain, not on a hilltop directly exposed to winds) and we have insurance.

I've been through two tornadoes and had numerous more strike in the surrounding area. Its a risk, but a fairly low order risk.

Jana Wang Inactive Member28 May 2011 9:30 a.m. PST

We have a far greater population density leading to a shortage of housing and much higher property prices.

We solved that problem by building lots of cheap houses. Unfortunately, they're not tornado-proof.

ghostdog Inactive Member29 May 2011 4:12 a.m. PST

as ever, please excuse my english.
This is not a rant against americans or people like ironwolf. I was honestly curious.
Here in spain small tornados are an odd and rare curiosity in the southern coast.
We have hurricanes in the atlantic coast one or two each ten years, with minor effects (fallen trees and the like).
So no need to build bunkers here, but wooden houses are so rare that they are seen as a curiosity, too. They use to be premade cabins.
Maybe its a cultural thing, because even in country areas, people has builded stone houses for centuries.
Here in spain people use to buy his house, no matter how many itll cost; they see renting as a waste of money. And only a few could allow the average american house that you can see in tv shows and the like. In spain, the land cost is half the house price, and isnīt cheap. So almost everybody buy a flat.
They could buy a cheaper house by buying a wooden one, but asi have said, nobody ever think of it.
By the way, brick houses donīt have wooden roofs

GypsyComet29 May 2011 8:36 a.m. PST

Cultural, but started as soon as Europeans arrived, since North America is a big place and was covered with trees at the time. The first thousand miles west of the Atlantic was forested.

Whatisitgood4atwork Inactive Member30 May 2011 3:42 a.m. PST

Wood is an excellent building material if used properly, and if you have lots of it, it makes a lot of sense to use it.

Worth remembering too, that the US was a pioneering country not that long ago. They needed to build a lot of structures quickly. And they had a lot of wood. So they used what they had, and got pretty good at it too.

Searching for a link to the building mention below, I was surprised to learn that the world's largest wooden structure is in Spain:


My own 'boy-we-gotta-lotta-wood/recent pioneering history' country, New Zealand, is home to the world's second-largest wooden building (largest is Todai-ni in Japan). Our 'Old Govt Buildings' in Wellington were opened in 1876 and are still in pretty good nick. I much prefer them to most of the tat we have built since.


Neotacha Inactive Member30 May 2011 6:56 a.m. PST

And only a few could allow the average american house that you can see in tv shows and the like.
Those aren't average American homes by any means, just as the income hinted at is not the average income. But folks watch TV and see that and think it is the norm, and that's part of why so many Americans are struggling under crushing debt.

Lentulus Inactive Member30 May 2011 10:17 a.m. PST

people has builded stone houses for centuries.

Which is the bottom line on choices, I expect. Most houses have always been built of wood here in Canada – exceptions are rare.

However, some cities can reverse that. Most of the older parts of Toronto are brick construction, I understand as a result of building codes passed in the 19th century after major city-destroying fires. For historical reasons the old parts of Quebec City have a lot of stone constructions.

Ron W DuBray Inactive Member30 May 2011 2:06 p.m. PST

wood is cheep to build with and cheep to keep worm or cool and insurance is also cheep.

average american house is only 1200 sqf.of living space. and you will never is a home that size on TV, because there is no room for the film crew and lights.

Johnny Boy Inactive Member15 Jun 2011 5:32 a.m. PST

Cerdic -

But almost all housing here is built from brick/concrete – wooden buildings are rare apart from stables and sheds!

This is not quite true. Timber frame building has been the mainstay of mass house builders in Britain from the late 70's. True we still have a brick outer skin but very few buildings are built the traditional way now with brick or blockwork cavity walls or with solid walls – its just too expensive.
We are now building timber framed buildings beyond 4 storeys which causes quite a problem with shrinkage.


14Bore06 Aug 2011 7:04 p.m. PST

people since the dawn of time build with what they got, unless they have money to burn

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