Jul 14, 2020
Practical, durable, sustainable and lovable, building with timber is beyond compare. The wonder of the ultimate renewable ticks all the boxes in an enduring legacy that more than stands the test of time.
Little wonder then that an increasing number of practitioners around the globe, such as British-based Daltons Wadkin or Queensland-based Hyne Timber, are happy to espouse the countless environmental and health benefits of using a natural material that continues to deliver substantial rewards long after the project is completed.
On a practical level, it’s hard to deny the all-round advantages of integrating certified timber into any construction project – inside and out.
Structurally, the strength-to-weight ratio of timber is about 20 per cent higher than steel and up to five times higher than non-reinforced concrete. Engineered timber is stronger and more stable than regular wood, and can provide superior earthquake resilience if you’re building on shaky ground. And even in severe fire events, the capacity of timber to burn in a slow, measurable and predictable way provides assurance in a volatile, frightening and deadly environment.
Operationally, the speed of build is quicker as a timber frame can be pre-cut and modified in a fraction of the time of a brick build. And there are no limits on design, size or appearance, with a timber frame capable of being clad in any external material. In terms of safety, working with a non-toxic material means it is easy to handle and touch and does not leak chemical vapours.
Aesthetically, the many grades and species of timber allow it to be used extensively internally. Yet to highlight its versatility and beauty, timber can also create the perfect first impression externally. And when maintained correctly, timber can last for hundreds of years, ages gracefully, can easily be repurposed, and does not corrode.
But it’s below the surface, in less visible ways, where timber triumphs over other widely used construction materials. Timber consumes minimal energy in its production – usually referred to as embodied energy – so it can be used as a low-emission substitute for materials that require larger amounts of fossil fuels to be produced, such as concrete and steel, substantially reducing a building’s carbon footprint.
In addition about half the dry weight of a living tree is carbon – its technical name is biogenic carbon – which is stored for as long as the timber exists. Using timber during construction stores the carbon for as long as the building stands, often many decades or even centuries.
But that’s not the only saving grace. The many air pockets within timber’s cellular structure ensures it is a 15 times better insulator than masonry, 400 times better than steel, and 1770 times better than aluminium. These natural insulation properties help reduce energy needs for heating and cooling – and typically use of fossil fuels – when wood is used in windows, doors and floors.
It makes sense that using a biodegradable and carbon-positive material sourced from certified Australian plantations and forests protects the environment and precious non-renewable resources, and allows the global population to breathe easier.
The true winner of using wood is the planet, but the personal gains can also derive enormous satisfaction through our connection to nature. The House, Health Humanity report published by Planet Ark in 2015 identifies the long-term physiological and psychological benefits of being surrounded by wood where we work, rest and play.
And its follow-up Wood – Nature Inspired Design report introduces the concept of biophilia – literally the love of life based on our natural affinity with nature – in explaining the warm and comfortable feeling experienced by deploying wood around us.
Mimicking the effect of spending time immersed in nature, various studies about biophilic design have shown wooden interiors help to: improve a person’s emotional state and level of self-expression; reduce blood pressure, heart rates and stress levels, and helps to improve air quality through humidity moderation.
The relaxing effects of biophilic design also extends from homes to workplaces, schools and hospitals, where it has been shown to improve social interaction among elderly people, improve learning outcomes and enhance productivity. And its economic benefits, such as reducing the risk of dementia, shortening hospital stays and reducing absenteeism, continue to reap results that also benefit the economic the bottom line.
Wyton House, Paolo Cappelli