Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Summary: The main types of wood used in home construction are hardwood, softwood, or engineered wood. Examples of softwood include spruce, pine, fir, cedar, and hemlock. Hardwood includes oak, teak, maple, mahogany, cherry, and walnut. Engineered wood includes the likes of plywood, MDF board, and composite board.
Wood is a widely preferred construction material due to its various advantages. Besides being lightweight and sturdy, wood has impressive thermal properties and is relatively affordable compared to other construction materials. With many types of wood available, it’s important to know which ones are best suited for residential construction.
In this article, I’ll discuss the main types of wood used in home construction in the United States, paying close attention to the various advantages of each wood type while also focusing on the usage of each.
1. Pine Wood
Pinewood is among the strongest types of softwood and is well known for its malleability and affordability. This wood type is commonly used in various construction projects, including frames for residential buildings and even decks.
Pinewood is easy to cut, carve, and stain, which helps to expedite the construction process. Pine has a high nail acceptance, meaning it won’t require pre-drilled holes, which also helps reduce the overall cost of construction as not too much work will be needed.
Pine also has a high resistance to foot traffic due to its internal properties. It works best when used on decks, patios, or even flooring in high-traffic areas. Pine’s affordability and resistance to wear over time make it one of the most common types of wood for home construction.
2. Cedar Wood
Cedar is a type of wood known for its anti-shrink and anti-swell properties. This wood type also doesn’t warp even when exposed to severe temperature and humidity changes. Cedar’s favorable properties result from its large, air-filled cell cavities that make it an excellent thermal insulator.
Another great advantage of using cedar wood in home construction is its resistance to decay. Cedar is known to resist rot for up to 40 years if well maintained, a feature that makes it perfect for use on exterior sidings.
Besides its resistance to rot, cedarwood is also sound resistant, making it ideal for fencing or constructing external sound barriers. Cedar is commonly used in decks, interior or exterior trim, shingles, shutters, exterior landscaping, and shutters.
3. Spruce Wood
Spruce wood is an inexpensive type of softwood known for its lightweight and elastic properties. While spruce tends to dry quicker than other wood types, its internal properties prevent it from cracking over time. It has a great bearing capacity, which makes it ideal when used as construction timber.
When used in home construction, spruce wood must be treated with preservatives since it isn’t weather-resistant, especially when the ground contact starts to rot. It is also prone to insects and fungus attacks, hence the need for proper wood treatment before being put to use.
Spruce wood is a mainstay in the construction industry, particularly since it can be used to construct roof trusses, ceiling joists, and scaffolding. The availability of spruce wood makes it a great option for producing engineered wood like plywood, laminated wood, and chipboard.
Firwood, more specifically Douglas fir, is commonly used in the construction of different types of buildings, from residential to small commercial, industrial, and multi-level structures. This type of wood stands out among other softwood due to its impressive strength-to-weight ratio and stiffness.
Firwood’s strength-to-weight ratio enables it to perform well when used in building frames and for constructing railroad and bridge ties. The overall firmness that comes with Firwood makes it a great option for building structures that need to withstand heavy loads, high winds, or even earthquakes. Firwood’s stiffness also allows for its use in flooring during construction.
When seasoned, Firwood retains its shape and size, meaning builders can nail it up when green before being allowed to season. Firwood has a coarse texture, which means it requires sharp power tools as opposed to hand tools.
Firwood is also used in making door and window frames and is known to resist corrosion and gradually wear. The presence of a few resins in Firwood means it can take a smooth coat varnish or paint well. It also stains well compared to other types of wood, although the grain color variations can lead to an uneven stain.
5. Hemlock Timber
Hemlock is a type of softwood that produces attractively pale timber, making it ideal for internal paneling, window frames, doors, screenings, feature walls, and moldings. And since Hemlock is naturally strong and wear-resistant, homeowners and architects often prefer it in flooring and stairs.
The ease of finishing and machining have also made Hemlock a popular alternative to hardwood for in-built wardrobes and roofing systems. This wood type holds nails and screws securely and is also accommodative of a variety of glue.
6. Teak Wood
Teakwood is a type of hardwood that’s commonly used in building construction and furniture. It has a yellow to dark brown coloration and is extremely strong, heavy, and durable. This strong wood type is also weather and warp-resistant.
The natural oils found in Teakwood make this type of wood resistant to pests and termites. Another feature that makes Teak wood ideal for construction work is its flame resistance since it doesn’t burn easily.
Compared to other types of wood, Teakwood is significantly costlier (due to its reduced availability), which limits its usage in large-scale building projects. This type of hardwood is commonly used for exterior and interior floor coverings, door and window frames, as well as the construction of outdoor furniture.
Despite being strong and durable, Teakwood is fairly lightweight, which makes it ideal for large construction projects since it reduces the overall dead load of a structure. This wood is resistant to external influences, making it a superb option for construction projects in acidic or alkaline environments.
7. Oak Wood
Arguably one of the most common types of hardwood, oak wood comes in two main varieties: red oak and white oak. Red oak is also referred to as black oak due to its bark and its very distinct finish and grain.
There are over 600 species of oak, with the most common types being sourced from North America, Japan, and North America. Generally, oak is strong, heavy, and dense with an immensely close grain. The high tannin content in oak makes it highly resistant to fungal and insect infestations.
There are several advantages that the construction industry usually looks to exploit. First, oak is unlikely to warp and is extremely resistant to water. It also polishes and stains well enough, enhancing its appearance. Oak is highly durable and resistant to gradual wear and tear, making it ideal for light and heavy construction.
This type of wood is ideal for joinery, paneling, veneers, decking, flooring, and furniture. However, oak wood’s main problem lies in its high tannin content, which often reacts with oil finishes when exposed to cold and wet weather. Oak is considerably heavy and might prove difficult to carve into different shapes, especially when using hand tools.
8. Maple Wood
Maple wood is an incredibly strong type of wood that stains nicely and looks great due to its smooth grain pattern. While not generally used to construct primary members in buildings, maple wood can be used on hardwood floors, especially if the owner prefers a bright, creamy appearance.
Over time, maple tends to darken due to oxygen and UV light exposure. Therefore, it is best advised to purchase and use maple pieces at the same time for them to maintain a uniform appearance.
Maple is widely considered eco-friendly wood since the trees grow abundantly and are usually harvested using sustainable methods. This type of wood can be stained to resemble wood types like mahogany. Maple can also work well when used in decks due to its light appearance that darkens over time.
9. Cherry Wood
Cherry wood possesses a straight grain (fine) that ranges from reddish-brown to blond. Besides its undoubted beauty, cherry wood is preferred by homeowners and professionals due to its workability and ability to darken and become richer as it ages.
The heart of cherry is highly resistant to decay and rot, making it an excellent choice for use in construction. This wood type is flexible and easy to cut and mold, which allows for its usage in different types of members.
Some common applications of cherry wood include moldings, carvings, joineries, veneer turnings, flooring, doors, and millwork. Compared to walnut wood, cherry wood is considerably affordable, while it’s more workable than oak and maple.
10. Walnut Wood
Woodworkers love walnut for its grain, strength, and color. It is also among the easiest hardwood types to work with and is commonly used for flooring, interior decoration, cabinetry, and interior paneling.
In addition to being rot-resistant, Walnut is also warp-resistant since it isn’t affected by changes in heat and humidity. Walnut is durable enough to last for decades without failing, especially when properly installed.
While most strong types of wood are usually heavy, Walnut is fairly light and takes finishes extremely well. However, Walnut is very expensive compared to other types of wood, hence its limited use in large building projects.
11. Beech Wood
Although strong and tough, Beechwood is dimensionally unstable, making it inappropriate for heavy construction. Beechwood isn’t the most durable wood type around, but its outstanding beauty makes up for its weakness.
In construction, Beechwood is mostly used on floors since they’re scratch and shock-resistant. It works well when used in high-traffic areas but doesn’t do too well in moisture-prone rooms. This hardwood type is hard to stain, meaning it’s best used in its natural state.
Granted, when using hand tools, Beechwood isn’t easy to work with. It can also shrink and warp if not properly dried before being used on floors. Proper care should also be taken when nailing Beechwood since it is highly susceptible to splitting.
Mahogany has a reddish-brown, highly attractive color that’s renowned for its classy appearance. Its annual rings are poorly defined, while its pore structure is uniform. Mahogany is strong, easy to carve, and finishes well. This wood type is known to stain well, thus adding a touch of elegance when used in furniture, veneers, sills, and window frames.
Due to its ability to resist wood rot when exposed to water and other elements, mahogany can also be used outside on decks and patios without degrading, warping, or buckling.
13. Mango Wood
Mango wood is a dense and fairly strong hardwood with a distinct, highly attractive grain pattern that embodies several colors and tones. The grain tones range from light shades to dark brown with light green or pink hints. Mango wood isn’t as heavy as other types of hardwood and is highly water-resistant.
Mango wood’s water-resistant nature makes it ideal for constructing decks, patios, and different types of outdoor furniture. However, when exposed to elements, this hardwood requires adequate polishing to increase its durability and performance.
Mango wood is soft and pliable, giving woodworkers an easy time carving and shaping based on client design. Besides its softness, mango wood is highly affordable and sustainable due to its availability.
While this type of wood works well in terms of water resistance, it is prone to insect and fungus attacks – hence the need for chemical treatment before being used for home construction. Mango wood also needs regular maintenance during the dry season since extreme heat tends to lead to crack formation.
Mango wood is ideal for constructing outdoor furniture, decking, and patios since it doesn’t react to moisture. However, proper care must be taken to prevent the wood from cracking when it’s extremely hot and dry. This can be done by pouring water to moisturize the surface and seams.
14. Sal Wood
One of the strongest and toughest wood types available, Sal wood is characterized by its coarse grain and its light coloration. It is highly durable and resinous, thus allowing for long-term cost-effectiveness.
As a rough construction wood, Sal is used mostly for strength and not for finishing. However, Sal wood isn’t ideal in construction for external members as it is prone to cracking when exposed to direct sunlight.
Sal wood is termite and fungi-resistant, features that make it a priced wood type in the construction industry. Sal is commonly used in internal windows and doors since it doesn’t get along too well with direct sun or excessive heat. It is also used to construct wooden beams, batten, and piles.
Please note that Sal wood is relatively hard compared to other hardwood types, making it very difficult to cut or size with hand tools. Sal wood also doesn’t take polish but can be finished with paint, thus allowing for easy maintenance.
15. Laminated Veneer Lumber
Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) is a high-strength engineered timber mostly used as an alternative to concrete, steel, and solid timber for structural applications. It is mostly used in construction for its strength and structural reliability.
This engineered wood reduces solid wood’s natural flaws and is uniform and durable. LVL is less prone to warping or shrinkage and can support heavier loads and span longer distances than solid timber.
LVL is made of veneers that are oriented in a uniform direction, making this engineered wood suitable for beams. It can also be used for trusses due to its high tensile strength. Some common applications of LVL include purlins, beams, lintels, pitched rafters, formwork, floor bearers, and truss chords.
16. Hardboard/High-Density Fiberboard
Hardboard is an engineered wood that gives a wood-like appearance at an affordable cost. This board is highly durable and is often used to construct siding and furniture. Hardboard stands out for its durability, more so when properly maintained.
High-density fiberboard (HDF) is inexpensive compared to other construction materials made from metal and real wood. It can also withstand weather elements when properly covered with a protective finish.
While this engineered wood can last long, it is highly susceptible to moisture – hence, it can’t be used in moisture-prone areas or the outdoors. It’s mostly used in partitions, doors, dados, roofs, and furniture.
17. Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
MDF is among the most versatile building products and is mostly chosen for its durability, strength, consistency, and affordability. This engineered wood is manufactured by breaking down softwood and hardwood residuals into extra fine particles combining them with a resin binder and wax before being compressed at high temperatures.
MDF is popular in residential and commercial construction due to its cost-effectiveness as it’s cheaper than solid wood or plywood. MDF also has a smooth, consistent surface since it doesn’t have splinters or voids. The smooth surface is ideal for painting. MDF is easy to cut with a scroll saw, router, jigsaw, or band saw, as it doesn’t splinter or tear out.
While MDF has wide-ranging advantages that make it ideal for construction projects, it is very heavy and swells after taking in water. It also doesn’t have wood grain for aesthetics and cannot be stained, while the extra small particles prevent the board from holding screws well.
In construction, MDF is commonly used in doors (and door frames), window frames, decorative projects, flooring, and permanent shelves.
Plywood is among the most commonly used types of engineered wood. Besides its strength, plywood is highly resistant to cracking and warping, making it a great construction material, more so for light partitions, external walls, formwork, flooring, shutters, light doors, and structural systems.
While several types of plywood exist, the most common ones include structural, internal, and external plywood. Structural plywood is best suited for permanent structures that require high strength, such as formwork, bracing panels, and beams. External plywood is commonly used on exterior surfaces that need a decorative finish. Internal plywood is ideal for the aesthetic finishing of wall panels, ceilings, and other non-structural applications.
Plywood is known for its uniform strength and stability, which make it ideal for construction work. It has an odd number of veneer piles (minimum of 3), which helps enhance the plywood’s resistance to bending. Increasing plywood’s panel shear allows for its usage in fabricated beams and bracing panels.
Plywood is also flexible and moisture-resistant. The adhesive used to bind plywood makes it resistant to humidity and moisture, making it ideal for external use in sheds, cladding, marine construction, and concrete formwork.
Plywood also scores high in impact resistance, as it can be cross-laminated during production to increase its tensile strength. This allows for its usage in flooring, wall cladding, roofing, and ceilings.
19. Oriented Strand Board
Also known as a sterling board or flakeboard, Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is engineered wood typically used in wall panels (sheathing), roof decking, and flooring. OSB is similar to plywood in terms of strength, as it can bear considerably heavy loads.
One of OSB’s greatest strengths is its versatility, which makes it a popular choice for construction work. OBS manufacturers can tweak the ingredients to give the end product desirable properties that best suit the immediate environment. This feature is crucial when constructing floor panels since the modifications will ensure OSB resists buckling to allow for a flat, stable floor.
Regarding sheer strength, OSB is stronger than other engineered wood like plywood. OSB’s thickness enhances its overall shear value, which explains its preferred use for the webs of I-joists (wooden). OSB is considerably cheaper than plywood, making it affordable for light DIY projects and even heavy construction.
Advantages of Using Wood in Construction
Wood is a naturally occurring construction material usually available in large quantities. Wood varies in type and usage as the primary properties depend on the type of tree used. The availability of wood makes it a convenient and highly affordable construction material.
Once cut and properly seasoned, wood can be used in different building parts, from the flooring to the roofing and even walls. The usage of wood greatly hinges on the properties of the type of wood used.
Lightweight and Sturdy
Unlike concrete, which usually increases the dead weight of structures, wood helps lower the overall weight while still providing structural support. Moreover, wood’s lightweight nature makes it great for usage in different parts without affecting structural balance. Despite being light, wood is usually sturdy enough to support frames and hold other members in place.
Thermal and Sound Insulation
Wood has great insulation properties. It has a relatively low heat conductivity, which helps it to prevent heat loss during cold weather. Wood is also resistant to extremely high temperatures as it usually retains its thermal properties.
Besides thermal insulation, wood is also great at absorbing echo and sound. This explains its ever-increasing usage in partitioning offices and residential structures. Wood is also a poor electrical conductor, meaning the risks of electrocution become significantly lower when using wood in construction.
Durable and Affordable
Although susceptible to insect and fungi attack, wood can be treated to increase its lifespan and performance. Proper maintenance of wood structures is the best way to prolong their usage. Luckily, this can be done by using quality wood preservatives like Valhalla Non-Toxic Wood Preservative and the Roxil Wood Protection Cream.
Wood is also affordable since it’s readily available and doesn’t require much pre-construction preparation. Wood design is also not as complex as integrating steel and concrete structures in high-rise buildings, which means labor costs are reduced with wood construction.
Wood construction stands out due to its natural appearance and feel. Wood products come in different grains and colors, which gives designers the creative freedom to play around with different types of wood. Wood can add a unique dimension to any structure, whether used for flooring or roofing, giving it a warm feeling.
Easy to Work With
Unlike concrete and steel, with little room for error during construction, wood can be cut down or shaped into unique pieces at the construction site without causing much delay. Any issues with prefabricated wood products can be easily rectified on-site, provided extra care is taken.
Has Different Types
Wood comes in varying patterns and properties depending on the tree used. The availability of different types of wood means designers can choose which wood type works best depending on the nature of a project. Even better, wood can be put to several uses in construction internally and externally, thus creating real value for the owner.
There are several types of wood used in construction. The best type of wood, however, should depend on the nature of the construction. This is because each wood type has its unique characteristics, as some are strong and hard to cut, while others are soft and relatively easy to shape using hand tools.
Other properties that should be considered when using wood for construction are water resistance, rot resistance, and insect resistance. Wood that can resist decay and degradation agents over time tends to cost more but is worth the investment in the long run.
- Designing Buildings: The Use Of Wood In Construction
- Builderology: Types Of Wood
- SF Gate: Building Qualities Of Fir Wood
- Hunker: The Advantages Of Using Cedar Wood
- Hunker: The Pros and Cons Of Beech Hardwood
- Designing Buildings: Plywood
- Builder Online: Pros And Cons Of Oriented Strand Board
- Make It Wood: Benefits of Wood
- Wood Database: Teak
- Designing Buildings: The Properties Of Walnut
- Lampert Lumber: The Best Types Of Engineered Wood For Building
Share this Post