Ever wondered what building material is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly? Well, here’s your answer.
Hint: it’s timber.
Rather than giving you a long, complicated article explaining why timber is one of the most sustainable building materials, we’ve simplified the reasons into an easy-to-read list instead.
Australian timbers that are sustainably harvested (third party audited by PEFC or FSC) are the ultimate renewable resource. Why? Because as trees grow, they capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. When a tree is processed into framing, furniture, flooring, stairs, bench tops etc, the carbon remains stored in that product. What’s better is that trees only require energy from the sun to grow, making timber a completely renewable resource.
As quoted by the IPCC 4th Assessment: “a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit“. This statement is reinforced by independent studies based on forestry in southeast Australia.
Timber has a lower embodied energy content than alternatives such as concrete and steel. Embodied energy refers to the energy that is consumed when producing materials such as timber from start to finish. This includes the extraction and processing of raw materials, manufacturing and transport.
Generally, the more highly processed a material is, the higher its embodied energy content will be. The production of wood products uses less energy (usually sourced from finite fossil fuels) than other building materials such as cement and steel. For example, a typical family home can save up to 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide if the timber was substituted for other building materials.
A life cycle analysis (LCA) measures the environmental impacts of building materials throughout their life cycle. Wood typically requires far less energy as alternatives, and is why wood is often used to improve a building’s ‘life cycle assessment’. Hardwood in particular has a great Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) which not only contributes to a building’s LCA, but to sustainable accreditations like Green Star and LEED.
Biophilic Design is the practice of connecting humans to nature that benefits them on a physical, mental and social level. Many studies have shown that using wood in nature-connected design improves air quality and emotional state, and reduces stress and blood pressure. Wood in the built environment is being increasingly used for its positive impacts on health, wellbeing and productivity.
Hardwood timber has exceptional strength to weight ratios (AS1720.1:2010) and far exceeds that of building materials such as concrete and steel. When comparing beams of a similar strength, a glulam member is four-fifths the weight of steel and one-sixth the weight of concrete. A lighter material like timber can have many advantages such as reduced foundation costs, is easier transport and is safer to erect.
Pre-fabricated timber is easier and quicker to install, and also reduces transport fuel and on-site energy use. Pre-fabricated timber products such as mass-timber beams and columns that are manufactured in Australia can be made to order and delivered to site ready to be erected straight away. Mid-rise construction is said to save between 5% and 25% of building costs. This also equates to a saving in labour, one of the major costs of construction, due to the less time on-site.
So there you have it; why timber is one of the most renewable, sustainable and eco-friendly building materials!