9 Alternative Wood Types for Eco-Friendly Homes

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated July 7, 2022
 The exterior of a modern house made of sustainable wood
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images


  • Sustainable wood comes from responsibly-managed forests.

  • Engineered wood is more sustainable than traditional hardwood flooring.

  • Look for the U.S. Forest Stewardship Council certification or the Greenguard label.

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The wood in your home—from the exterior to the interior walls, doors, and floors—can make all the difference between that warm, country niche and a cool, modern design. However, choosing materials for your home can be overwhelming when there are so many different options available, whether you’re moving into a new home or simply looking for ways to make your home more customized and personal. These eco-friendly wood alternatives and tips for identifying sustainably-sourced wood can help you prepare for your next home improvement project. 

What Is a Sustainable Wood?

Sustainable wood, also called “eco-friendly” or “responsibly sourced wood,” comes from forests with specific preservation considerations. A few ways that wood materials are identified as sustainable include:

  • Replanting trees after logging

  • Maintaining and protecting the native animals and plants that live in the forests

  • Protecting native trees from invasive species

  • Promoting fair trade

  • Keeping forests free of byproducts that create greenhouse gases, organic compounds, and phosphorus 

9 Types of Eco-friendly Woods

 9 types of eco-friendly woods, including white ash, white oak, poplar, beechwood, and alder

Eco home remodeling doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream kitchen or living room. There are many alternative types of wood options on the market that look amazing and offer equally, if not better, features for home projects.

These options give homeowners the opportunity to create a dramatic aesthetic in the home with a unique type of wood. These types may also help you save some money with a readily available product. 

Below are nine kinds of woods to consider when planning your eco-friendly home remodel:

1. White Ash Wood 

White ash is a tree that grows in North America, and you can use it for all kinds of woodwork, including flooring, furniture, doors, decks, and more. Plus, if you choose to source from the U.S., you can avoid extra transportation emissions from importing exotic wood.

Here are some stats on white ash:

  • Soured from North America

  • Janka hardness rating: 1,320 pounds-force (ibf)

  • Slightly coarse texture

  • Light in color with straight, regular grain

  • Easy to stain and finish

  • Shock-resistant

  • Budget-friendly

2. White Oak Wood

White oak is an economical option for homeowners looking for a strong, rot-resistant material. This durable material can be stained in many different colors, making it a flexible choice with an appearance that’s easy to customize. 

Here are more facts about white oak:

  • Exclusively found in North America

  • Janka hardness rating: 1,360 ibf

  • Dense, durable, and long-lasting

  • Straight grain with uneven pattern and texture

  • Water-resistant

  • Easy to finish

3. Poplar Wood

Poplar trees are easy to sustainably log because of their growth standards, making them a great alternative to walnut hardwood. Poplar trees grow an astonishing 5 to 8 feet in just a single year, while walnut trees only grow 3 to 4 feet per year. 

Since they’re so fast-growing, poplar trees can quickly replenish forests. You can use poplar wood for furniture, cabinets, veneer, plywood, doors, window frames, and more. 

Here’s what else you need to know about poplar wood:

  • Sourced from North America

  • Janka hardness rating: 540 ibf

  • Straight grain with a medium texture

  • Low-density

  • Softer than other wood options

4. Beechwood

Beechwood is commonly found in furniture, cabinets, and flooring because of its resistance to wear and tear, making it perfect for homes with pets or frequent foot traffic. Beech trees also thrive in the forests in the northeastern part of the U.S., making them abundant and locally available, depending on where you reside.

Additional beechwood facts include:

  • Janka hardness rating: 1,300 ibf

  • Honey, brown, and gold in color

  • Extremely durable 

  • Hard, straight grains

  • Affordable

5. Eastern White Pinewood

Pine is a fast-growing timber that is more sustainable than oak due to how quickly it grows. This wood is also lightweight, making it easier to transport with less fuel. Pinewood is very versatile and, despite it being a softwood, you can use it for furniture, floors, cabinets, and molding.

Here are more quick facts about pine wood:

  • Found in North America

  • Janka hardness rating: 380 ibf

  • Straight-grained with many dark, porous rings

  • Fast-growing and tall, providing lots of wood per tree

  • Pale yellow or soft white in color

  • Challenging to stain

6. Black Cherry Wood

Black cherry sounds as deep and red as it looks. This option has a similar color and grain pattern to mahogany wood. As such, it is a great replacement for those fine details in your home like your furniture, decking, veneer, window frames, cabinets, plank accent wall, and more. 

Here are a few facts about black cherry wood:

  • Sourced from North America

  • Janka hardness rating: 950 ibf 

  • Stable, dense, and durable

  • Straight-grained with some figured patterns

  • Darkens when exposed to light

  • Can be difficult to stain

7. Alder Wood

Alder is an abundant tree that is easy to manage in forests. Since this wood is not endangered and grows quickly, it’s a great alternative to cherry or even walnut. Alder has a natural warmth to it that reduces the need for finishes that set off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, making it even more well-suited for an eco-friendly home remodel. You can use alder wood for veneers, moldings, furniture, and paneling.

Here are some additional facts about alder wood:

  • Sourced from the Pacific Northwest

  • Janka hardness rating: 590 ibf

  • Straight, fine-grained

  • Most similar to cherry, birch, or maple wood

  • Softwood

  • Great for finishing and staining

8. Sungkai Wood

Outdoor furniture commonly features teak, but its environmental impacts may cause you to think again. A sustainable alternative to teak is Sungkai wood (also known as “white teak” in the wood industry). Sungkai wood works well as flooring, garden furniture, and veneer.

Check out these facts about Sungkai wood:

  • Sourced from Southeast Asia

  • Janka hardness rating: 275 ibf

  • Excellent stability with small movement

  • Moderate durability, with required treatment

  • Fine to medium texture

  • Easy to work with

9. Andiroba Wood

Another substitute for mahogany wood is andiroba, which is a hardy choice for anything from your floors, deck, veneer, and window frames. 

Here’s additional information on andiroba:

  • Sourced from Central and South America

  • Moderate dimensional stability

  • Janka hardness rating: 1,220 ibf

  • Moderately durable 

  • Medium to coarse texture

Common Woods to Avoid

When designing a new home, a few types of wood are popular in high-end builds for interior trim, cabinetry, and flooring. Unfortunately, a lot of these heavily exploited, highly valuable commercial timber species are vulnerable and threatened with commercial extinction due in major part to demand from consumer markets. 

Here is a list of wood types to avoid in your quest for an eco-friendly home:

  • Brazilian mahogany

  • Teak

  • Walnut

  • Wenge

  • Ebony

  • Merbau

  • Sapele

Engineered Wood vs. Solid Hardwood

A living room with wooden floor and lots of houseplants
Photo: LeoPatrizi / E+ / Getty Images

The type of wood you choose for your home isn’t the only factor that affects its sustainability. Whether or not your wood floorboards are hardwood or engineered also plays a role in whether or not the wood is considered sustainable. 

Engineered wood is more environmentally-friendly than solid hardwood because engineered wood is a combination of layers of thinly sliced pieces of hardwood with a sturdy plywood base. Since this type of wood doesn’t use the entire piece of hardwood for a single board, it requires less timber. On the other hand, hardwood uses more wood and more resources.

Finding Sustainably-Sourced Wood

Not all pieces of white oak flooring are alike when it comes to the environmental impact that went into making it. Some companies employ more green practices than others.

Look for the Certification

You can evaluate the wood’s sustainability by looking for certifications that show that the product in question has been responsibly sourced.

The U.S. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) runs the biggest certification program. Currently, FSC manages approximately 572 million acres of forests in 89 different countries. Sustainable wood carries this seal, which ensures that: 

  • The wood was logged without the use of clear-cutting practices that lead to deforestation

  • The forest’s management maintains the native plants and wildlife

  • Timber is harvested from mature trees, which are slower at capturing carbon from the air compared to young trees

The Greenguard Certification is from UL—a company that uses scientific testing to determine the environmental impacts of qualifying products.

Choose Reclaimed Wood

If you are absolutely set on teak, walnut, wenge, or mahogany wood in your home but still want to find a way to make your purchase more eco-friendly, opt for reclaimed wood. Reclaimed wood is recycled wood processed for reuse. 

Depending on availability, you might get lucky and find exotic reclaimed wood. The best part is that it’s environmentally friendly because you’re not purchasing brand new wood from at-risk tree species. Check with a contractor or carpenter near you when planning a project for material pricing and availability.

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