Most people in the UK live in brick built or stone built houses. Even the modern houses built on a budget that have breeze block walls have an external facing of brick. Concrete and steel are common components. This may make for very sturdy buildings but do we really need buildings made of materials that use up so much energy in their manufacture and that produce large amounts of carbon emissions?
Environmentalists favour timber framed houses, in which the components usually made from concrete, metal and stone or brick are replaced by solid wood. Wood is the ultimate renewable building material when it is produced sustainably. As you cut trees down to use, you plant more to grow over the next few years and it is possible to generate a constant supply. Studies have shown that the energy use in making a steel girder is over 10 times that used in producing an equivalent sized wooden beam from a piece of freshly sawn timber.
How Do Different Houses Compare for Carbon Emissions?
A recent report looked at different types of house and concluded that timber framed houses are some of the most carbon efficient. Their ecofriendly construction puts them way ahead of brick build houses in terms of their impact on global warming and climate change.
By using wood to replace steel and other high energy materials in building, it is possible to cut the carbon emissions per cubic metre of the house by 0.9 tonnes. That means if you are building a standard family detached house with three bedrooms, the carbon footprint of the house is reduced from 20 tonnes to 17 tonnes just by using a timber rather than a steel frame. Not much on its own, perhaps, but when added up across all of the new houses being built each year in the UK, it certainly adds up.
What is the Impact of Using More Wood?
If building contractors and architects were to go further and use wood as a material wherever possible, including as a cladding for weatherproofing the outside, the overall carbon footprint of the house could be reduced to less than 2.5 tonnes. That’s a 90% reduction. Several studies agree on this and show that timber framed and wooden buildings perform better than houses made from steel frames and concrete in terms of their impact on local water supplies and air quality as well as on energy use.
Wood is also a Good Insulator
If you are thinking that a wooden house would be cold and uncomfortable, think again. Wood has far better insulation properties than other building materials such as concrete and brick. It is 350 times better at keeping in heat than steel, as you would expect as wood is a non-conductor of heat and electricity. Wood can also be prepared so that it stands up to the weather quite well, keeping heat in and draughts and rain out.
Is Wood a Cheaper as well as an Ecofriendly Construction Material?
As well as reducing carbon emissions and carbon footprint, using wood as the major material in house building also can save on the building budget. Some estimates put the saving at around 5% of the building cost of a brick built house. If locally produced hardwood is used, that also saves on the costs and the environmental impact of transporting building materials long distances by train or road.
Are More Timber Framed Houses Likely in the UK?
There will initially be some resistance to timber framed houses as people are so used to living in brick built accommodation. Looking at other parts of Europe, however, there are countries that have enjoyed timber houses in much colder climates for centuries – Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia, for example. As the pressure builds to reduce carbon emissions and to lower the energy usage of our buildings, we may well see a new fashion for English timber homes.