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Wood: A Sustainable Building Resource for the Future?

When you think about sustainable building materials, wood doesn’t always come to mind. But a growing trend suggests that it could indeed be an important sustainable resource. 

Wood comes from forests, so timber is technically a byproduct of deforestation, which in turn damages habitat and ecosystems. Wood is therefore not a clear choice for eco-friendly construction. With manufactured materials creating a large carbon footprint, however, building with wood is experiencing a resurgence. It is even being hailed as the only key renewable construction material. 

A product’s sustainability is assessed by taking its entire life cycle into account, starting with the source. If timber is being sourced from primal forests, it does not appear to be sustainable. But in many highly populated areas, forests have been used for centuries, and changed in the process. 

Forests in Central Europe have been cut down, regrown, and harvested again. For example, most German forests are secondary, meaning that it’s been cut down and regrown. What is used does not surpass what grows back, resulting in what many experts are applauding as sustainable forestry. 

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At one time, wood was the main building material across the globe. In the West, that changed with industrialisation. Concrete and steel became the primary building resource to meet modern demand for tall buildings and sturdy bridges. Now the carbon footprint created by such building materials is being recognised: they require a lot of energy to produce and when transported over long distances, the resulting CO2 emissions contribute to climate change. 

Locally harvested wood from regrown forests, on the other hand, create a smaller carbon footprint. When it is used in construction, carbon dioxide is sequestered. Photosynthesis in plants removes CO2 from the atmosphere and retains it in the wood.  

Wood presents many benefits as a construction material. It’s flexible and comparatively lightweight. It is easy to transport and its ability to assume different shapes makes it one of the sustainable resources with a virtually limitless use in construction. 

Wooden skyscrapers are appearing in cities across North America and Europe, but the bulk of wooden construction consists of more mundane projects. Nearly a quarter of the apartment buildings and residential homes in Germany are now being constructed out of wood. 

One multi-storey apartment building outside Bonn contains eight apartments and uses 190 cubic metres of wood, which pulls an equivalent number of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. It produces the same environmental effect as taking 40 automobiles off the road. 

In addition to being safe, durable, and stable, wood is not as flammable as many imagine, and fire risks are further reduced by working with other materials. 

With so many benefits being realised, what if demand exceeds supply? There is only so much secondary forest that can cut down and replanted. One possibility would be more trees being planted, which would also benefit the environment. Forests are important sustainable resources, with output that can replace the existing concrete and petroleum-based steel. 

Specialists in Construction Insurance


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