Meet Chris

He believes he can make his dream a reality – one tree and one house at a time.

Inventor Chris Scott has spent the last half of his life following his passion and working tirelessly toward his dream—finding ways to help slow climate change while also housing everyone who needs a roof over their head.

“More than fifty percent of the wood cut in the world is not fully used. If it were used properly, we could significantly reduce our carbon footprint—at almost no cost—and we could house millions of people with wood that would otherwise have been tossed away,” Chris says. “If the majority of people had their own home and felt secure and safe within themselves, if they felt they had a future and had jobs and had food and had leisure time, then the world could focus more on education, health and the future and do something more to slow climate change.”

It all began while Chris was on a business trip in Europe. A spontaneous visit to a small IKEA store in Switzerland in the 1970s ultimately led him to open four of the first IKEA stores in North America. Inspired by his love for wood and the IKEA do-it-yourself building concept, Chris went on to develop his own building system, which he believes can achieve his vision. He continues to tweak and improve the components of his system and champion its benefits to our planet and those who need housing.

Chris credits IKEA with sparking the inspiration that prompted him to come up with the I WOOD building system, because it is based on the same concept of DIY assembly and flat box shipping.

Then, in 1980 while examining a WWI biplane, known as a Sopwith Piper Cub, in the Ontario Science Centre museum in Toronto he noticed that the main wing strut, which held the wing up and connected it to the main body of the plane, had a groove cut out of it, and that the entire aircraft was made out of wood, even the propeller.

Why the hell are they taking strength away from the strut by cutting out those grooves? he wondered. It’s supposed to be the strongest and most critical part of the aircraft.

By studying the plane, he realized that the strength-to-weight ratio had to be greater by using this grooved beam than if it had been made out of solid wood. These planes were still flying eighty years after they were first designed, so they really were strong, incorporating the same “I” beam shapes used in railway lines, high-rise apartments and steel bridges.

Why don’t we cut wood that way? It’s got to be more than strong enough.

Chris started thinking in broad strokes. He realized that if grooves were cut into conventional wood studs, the weight and therefore the shipping cost of those studs would be reduced by a third. The carved-out portion—the “waste”—could then go back into pulp to make paper, thereby reducing the mill’s raw material cost.

Chris’ called his system of cutting grooves into conventional 2×4 wood studs, I WOOD (trademarked in 1988). From the side—or its profile—his specially cut wood beam had the shape of a capital I, or an I-beam, (thus the name for the new companies he would later form: Profile Lumber and Profile Building Systems).

Although grooves are cut out of either side of a traditional I-beam to make I WOOD, the remaining wooden beam is still structurally strong, is lighter to handle and ship, and makes more efficient—and green—use of the entire log, because more pieces can be cut out of a single tree.

There’s a catch – changing the way that the lumber and building industries approach ecology and climate change (they would literally have to cut the tree differently to gain that more efficient use of the wood) has been an uphill battle. But Chris is committed to seeing it through. Some might say obsessively so.

Chris has spent more than $2.5 million dollars—of his own money, grants and funding from large corporations—to conduct engineering tests and test market the I WOOD concept. He’s obtained international patents, started a non-profit organization, and built dozens of prototype homes and structures with I WOOD in the United States, Canada and Mexico—homes for the poor, homes for the homeless, and even a home for himself. All to prove to the world that I WOOD works.

“That’s one of the things I still believe, that it’s got the potential,” he says. “Whether it’s stubbornness or whatever, I don’t know, but I believe that it could make a difference.”

“Wood is the most wonderful building product that you could possibly have,” Chris says. “It benefits the atmosphere while it’s being produced, while it’s growing. It increases the water table, it reduces runoff and erosion, and it creates oxygen from carbon. One tree basically puts back $1,000 of good into the world every year, so for every tree you don’t cut down, you’re saving the world $1,000 a year.”

Chris believes that using the I WOOD building system can make better use of the trees we have, and in turn, save the planet. He conceived the terms “Treecycling” and “Precycling,” because he could find no words in the English language that incorporate the idea of planning to recycle a material before it is even manufactured. Recycling refers to the re-use of a product after its primary use is over. But the I WOOD concept actually incorporates other repurposing uses for the “waste” pieces and particles that are removed during the cutting of grooves into beams used to build structures, i.e. using them to make pulp, paper, particle boards, or ethanol. The waste also can be made into pellets and used for cooking and heating in third world countries, rather than using gas or electricity or coal. Such repurposing should be used instead of recycling wherever possible.

In 2006 Chris established Treecycling Inc. as a 501c-3 non-profit organization, with the hope of getting other people to use his uniquely-shaped components to help people build their own homes, as a kind of communal idea.

Chris is liked by pretty much everyone he meets because he’s a good-hearted soul who sees the best in people, and wants the best for them. Working with his church and also with groups such as Habitat for Humanity, Youth With a Mission and Corazon, he has donated thousands of his own dollars and traveled to the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana and Ensenada, Mexico, to build structures that provide homeless families with roofs over their heads. He wants everyone to have a home, whether it’s completely made out of I WOOD, or expanded with I WOOD, room by room, and bit by bit, whatever people can afford. If you can’t afford to buy a parcel of land, then he wants you to be able to put a home wherever you can get permission.

Clearly, Chris knows how to make things fit together. He knows wood and pulp, he loves trees and working with his hands. He is most happy when he is screwing in metal screws or hammering in nails and when he has sawdust sticking to his clothes and the bottom of his socks. He doesn’t care if a thin layer of it covers every scrap of paper in his office. He is in his element when he is in his workshop, where he literally lives and breathes I WOOD.

“The idea is a little like sliced bread,” he says. “No one thought of pre-slicing bread for years. And when someone did, it took years to win acceptance. Now no one can imagine doing without it.”

Work Space

“The idea is a little like sliced bread,” he says. “No one thought of pre-slicing bread for years. And when someone did, it took years to win acceptance. Now no one can imagine doing without it.”