This article looks into wooden buildings and sustainability. What does this material have to offer sustainability?
It seems poignant on the 3-year anniversary of the Grenfell fire in London to look again at this material and its potential. Following the fire, the UK government banned timber as well as other combustible materials from the exterior of residential buildings more than 18 metres high.
Instead of being reviewed with a pathway towards supporting wood in the construction of buildings, the government is planning to reduce the maximum height of wood-framed buildings from six storeys to four.
This does not seem to be a balanced interpretation of the science, which would indicate that wooden buildings can be constructed to the highest fire safety standards and would perform very strongly on sustainability at the same time.
Wooden buildings lock up carbon that was stored in the trees during their lifetime. If this wood is not turned into durable products, the carbon can re enter the carbon cycle as the wood decomposes and contribute towards anthropogenic climate change.
Similar to the articles that I have written about bamboo. There is a dual benefit to using low-carbon natural materials such as timber and bamboo. Where these replace high-carbon non-renewable materials such as steel and concrete, you can achieve significant carbon reductions by targeting carbon hotspots in a buildings design.
Wood has a lot of other benefits in that it does not contribute to the urban heat island effect as much as comparable materials and aesthetically it can be used to create stunning buildings.
No other governments around the world have taken the steps that the UK government has. Around the world there is a wooden building arms race as developers compete to build the world’s tallest wooden structure. Unfortunately, the UK is being held back by regulations that bear no resemblance to the risks posed.
I appreciate that to the lay person it may seem that wooden buildings are incredibly risky, but engineered timber can be created that has excellent fire proof properties. There is an excellent video here that was produced by the Estonian government.
What you need to know
This article looked into wooden buildings and sustainability.
3 years on from the Grenfell tragedy, it does very much appear that wooden buildings have been a casualty of an overly strict regulation.
I am sure it was designed with the best of intentions, but when wooden buildings can be designed to exacting fire safety standards, the regulation really needed to be reviewed and not enhanced.
Perhaps it has something to do with the relative paucity of forests remaining in the UK. When you look at the list of countries that are making great strides in wooden buildings they all have significant forest resources. Whereas the UK is a significant importer of wood products.
People are looking for hope and looking for change. We don’t need bad regulations standing in the way of progress.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
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