Wood - The "new" construction material

A growing trend bringing many attractive advantages for buildings, the construction industry and the environment.

Wait! Wood is not a new material used in construction.

Granted, wood is an old standard but now it is re-emerging again on the industry stage as an innovative building material. In fact, new processing methods are making wood one of the most attractive materials in the construction industry today, contrary to all previous preconceptions.

Thinking of wood, traditionally certain attributes such as easy combustibility, rapid weathering effects and weak load-bearing capacity come to mind first. One does not normally think of wood as a building material for large constructions these days. This perception is presently changing. The many advantages of wood compared to concrete and steel are convincing. Architects, builders and sustainability advocates are excited about wood as a new old building material and thus demand grows steadily. The use of timber in the building sector is expected to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste, pollution and costs associated with construction and should further help to create a physically, psychologically and aesthetically healthier building environment. Using wood in a new and different way has also brought the material back into the spotlight again for these professionals. The hype revolves around construction timber or "solid wood", as it is popularly known. The technique involves gluing together different pieces of softwood - usually conifers like pine, spruce or fir, but sometimes hardwoods like birch, ash or beech - to form larger pieces that stick together like wooden Lego blocks.

1. Good performance in case of a fire
Contrary to the assumption that wood is highly flammable, in reality solid, compressed wood compounds are actually quite difficult to ignite. In the event of a fire, the outer layer of solid wood char is protecting the interior of the wood in the process - a natural self-extinguishing effect. Even in an intense fire, the wood structure remains intact for several hours.

2. Reducing carbon emissions
About 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from building materials and construction. Another 28% are caused by operating buildings, mainly through their energy consumption. As energy will become cleaner in the coming years, building materials and construction will account for an increasing share of a buildings’ carbon footprint. Materials such as steel and concrete are very energy-intensive to produce as well and are usually transported long distances, steps which all release CO2, thus contributing to climate change. Solid wood, as a composite material, is an option to reduce this, because as already cut down trees still contain carbon, using more of this wood in buildings is an option to store more of it long-term.

3. Shorter construction times, lower construction costs and high durability
Buildings can be erected faster, with lower labor costs and less waste. Instead of using conventional construction methods, such as ordering materials in large quantities and then cutting and assembling them on site, with timber houses much of the work is already done in advance at the factory. The parts are only assembled at the building site. In this way even tall towers can be erected within weeks with much lower labor costs. According to the softwood industry, solid wood buildings are about 25% faster to erect than concrete buildings and require 90% less site traffic. Buildings made of wood are stable, durable and safe. Dry wood is even stronger than steel in relation to its weight.

4. Good stability during earthquakes
The behavior of solid wood during earthquakes has been tested many times with remarkably good results. While tremors often cause cracks in concrete buildings which regularly lead to entire houses having to be demolished and replaced, wooden buildings can often be repaired relatively easily after earthquakes.

5. Insulation
Solid wood is also a good natural insulator. Softwood generally has about 10 times the thermal insulation capacity of concrete and masonry and 400 times that of solid steel.

6. Renewable building material of the future
Taking a closer look at the growing trend, the question arises whether wood could be an important sustainable resource in our future? If so, forests on public land can and should be urgently thinned of weak and small trees, as they are the ideal source for producing timber for the mass market. A lackluster resource until now, it is showing good market potential for the first time. Both the healthy forest trees and the construction industry could benefit from such sustainable forest management. In order to assess and achieve sustainability, the source of a product must also be recognized and considered. Cutting down virgin forests for timber is not a sustainable option.
However, in many densely populated parts of the world, people have been using and changing forests for generations. These so-called secondary forests have been grown, cut down and grown back again on a regular basis. Interventions in such forests are not only sustainable, but often necessary to preserve biodiversity in such areas. The only thing to always remember and adhere to is not to use more wood than can grow back.

7. Wood of the future
Japan is well-known for its traditional and modern wooden construction and served as inspiration for new developments such as augmented timber. For this new augmented material, the wood structure is processed until the wood is ultimately transparent and can be used for example in the automotive industry. The translucent material shall be used in the future for wood panels, so called "tactile dashboards" in cars or other vehicles. But that is not all. The electronics industry is already experimenting with touch-sensitive wood. Such augmented wood will be weatherproof, show higher fire-resistance and be three to five times stronger than unprocessed wood and – not to forget - it will be transparent.

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