Wood Is Making A Comeback In Construction

Wood Is Making A Comeback In Construction

Wood is known as one of the oldest construction materials. It was the key material used in buildings until the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s. Around which time steel, brick, and concrete began to take over. With the environmental footprint growing in construction, many businesses are looking for a way to reduce their carbon footprint. As a result, wood is seeing a comeback in building development as a more sustainable material.

Growing Unsustainability

Since the 19th century we’ve relied on steel and other resources for large-scale construction. With these materials requiring less labor they’ve become the staple in building projects. Nonetheless, these materials have created a problem over the years in the form of CO₂ emissions.

CO₂ or carbon dioxide is a gas created by the combustion of carbon and respiration of living organisms. Too much of it in earth’s atmosphere can contribute to global warming. CO₂ emissions are created by the usage of gas, coal, and other fossil fuels; the use of these resources creates a carbon footprint. This is a measure of impact certain activities have on the environment.

The CO₂ emissions created by construction are around 38%. Concrete by itself accounts for 9% of fresh water usage yearly. However, reinforced concrete makes up 35% of constructions total CO₂ emissions. Therefore, in order for the construction industry to bring down its CO₂ usage, it will require drastic change. This sector has a goal of net zero in CO₂ emissions by 2050. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), buildings must drop their CO₂ levels by 50% within the decade. As you can see, the carbon footprint of the construction industry is astronomical.

The Benefits Of Wood

New developments in wood engineering have created a demand for its comeback in construction. Cross-laminated timber (or CLT) for example uses 26.5% less energy than concrete. This is done by CLTs engineering, in which it is stacked like jenga pieces to maximize usage. Wood and timber products have been known to perform better than concrete, and 400 times better than steel when it comes to energy. With wood being a natural insulator, it saves money by cutting down the cost to heat and cool buildings.

wood in construction
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Wood is lighter than its concrete and steel counterparts. This makes wood easy to transport and requires less heavy machinery when building. Products such as pine can be pressure treated to be resistant to termites and other elements thanks to advancement in construction technology. Overall, wood is cost effective due to how it cuts down usage for equipment and material.

Wood has been found to provide psychological relief. It is known to have a calming effect on individuals. This is due to its close proximity with nature, helping folks feel close to their primal roots. Studies have also shown that the natural scent of different wood species help stimulate relaxation. When it comes to the benefits, wood has shown time and time how it’s reliable.

Reactions To The Timber Industry

Though there are many benefits to using wood in construction, it has met criticism. In the UK, wood usage in construction has met roadblocks. Since the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, the government banned timber and other combustible materials from residential buildings. In 2020, there have been talks to adjust the legislation to fit the needs of the people, and the need for safety. For now, the ban seems to be in favor of continuing.

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The Sierra Club of the US has pointed out several issues regarding the timber industry championing wood as a shield against climate change. The Sierra Club has stated, “…the claimed benefit of such substitution is highly misleading when the impact of logging on forests and forest carbon is left out of the emissions equation.” Meaning that more research needs to be done on logging and forest management. The Sierra Club further adds, “A key question is whether forest management and wood use can result in a net increase in carbon stores. Without great advances in forest protection and stewardship, the answer is almost certainly not.”

Alex de Rijke, the director of London’s dRMM firm, has a different perspective. Being a supporter of wood in construction and the arts, he has stated, “The 17th century was the age of stone. The 18th century was the peak of brick. The 19th century was the era of iron. The 20th century was the century of concrete. The 21st century will be the time for timber.” de Rijke along with others believe that wood making a comeback in construction is inevitable. Since it is a material we humans have used for thousands of years, it’s natural to return to basics.

What Does The Future Hold For Wood?

While wood is paving the way for environmental change in the construction industry, it is important to consider perspectives from both aisles. There is substantial evidence that wood can be a weak material in terms of flammability. In addition, the methods of acquirement could do more harm than good to the environment. Nonetheless, there is no denying the positive benefits of wood in construction and the impact its had on the lives of people, and the planet in reference to CO₂ emissions. Wood has a green advantage of being a biodegradable material, and being easily processed compared to its competitors. It will be interesting to see advancements in the future as we continue to look for alternative sources to build our homes and other projects.

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