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Why building with wood is rising in popularity

Fanny Guay
Fanny Guay
29 November 2019

This increase in wood use can be attributed to a variety of reasons.

Timber frame building, House Building, MMC, Offsite Construction

In recent years, wood as a building material has become increasingly popular. The 21st century has been referred to as “The beginning of the timber age”[1]. Whilst structures have been built from wood for thousands of years, the 20th century saw a transition towards bricks, concrete and steel. This was in part because of the strength and durability of these materials along with increased focus on deforestation.

In recent years, we’ve seen examples of this trend shifting back towards wood. One example is the Mjøstårnet in Norway, an apartment building of 18 stories. It is the tallest wooden building in the world, standing at 85.4 meters. There are many reasons for the resurgence of wooden structures that we’ll be exploring in this article.

The many benefits of building with wood

In recent years, the popularity of using wood as a building material has increased. Today, more people are choosing wood for complex projects like housing, offices, museums, bridges, and even sports stadiums. This increase in wood use can be attributed to a variety of reasons.

Wood is cheaper than other materials

The most obvious benefit that appears during the building process is the decrease in cost, as wood is cheaper than other materials. Construction can potentially move along quicker, provided wood is commonly available in the area, which saves time and money for the seller and new owner of the building. Mjøstårnet itself took less than two years to build, from its initial beginnings in mid-2017 to its opening in March 2019 – and that’s 85.4 meters worth of wood!

Wood handles well

Wood can be transported and handled more easily than most competing materials, such as concrete or bricks. Also, because wood is lighter than other materials, it does not necessarily need an expensive foundation to build on. In fact, smaller structures can be built on pillars or footings, meaning there is little cost related to establishing a foundation.

Wood can also be easier to process resulting in complex constructions progressing quicker and thereby reducing costs. Whole elements of the building can also be constructed off site and transported to the building site because of the low weight.

Using wood reduces carbon footprints

No other building material can be called completely natural, with none or minimal manufacturing. Wood grows straight out of the earth, and, like trees themselves, wooden buildings benefit everyone around them too, if the wood comes from sustainable forestry. Wood stores carbon instead of emitting it for as long as the building stays standing, thereby releasing less dangerous gases into the atmosphere during its lifespan. On the other hand, producing cement for concrete buildings accounts for around 6% of the world’s carbon emissions. As a bonus, using stone wool as insulation material in a wooden structure means that less energy is needed for heating and cooling. In that way, using wood as a building material is beneficial to its inhabitants as well as the surrounding environment.

Structures made from wood are easier to modify

Wooden buildings are easier to work with when it comes to making later extensions. The structure does not need to be modified as heavily as it would with other materials – simple additions can be made without much strife. Wood also offers a more comfortable climate indoors than its competitors can provide, especially when combined with building insulation such as stone wool. In that way, wood can provide for a pleasant living-experience no matter the season because of its natural ability to let the building “breathe”.

Wooden buildings hold up better during earthquakes

Wooden buildings have been proven to perform well during earthquakes, and now they are the most common type of buildings in areas prone to earthquakes. This is due to the flexibility of wood that allows it to be bent more than other materials without deforming or breaking.

Where wood falls short

Climate and weather are important factors in choosing wood for a base, as wood needs extra care in wetter climates. This means protecting wooden structures from moisture. Prolonged exposure to moisture can cause the wood to expand or deform or even cause fungus growth. Using materials like stone wool can help negate these problems as the insulation repels water and moisture rather than absorbing it.

Another drawback to using wood comes down to fire safety. During the last year, there has been a 9% increase in building fires overall in England alone. Fire safety, therefore, is a crucial element of any building safety plan, whether it is a commercial or residential building.

Dealing with fire hazards in wooden buildings

Building fires happen and wood is a combustible material. Though it can be treated to become less flammable, the chemical treatment comes with risks for both the residents and the environment’s health. While fire can’t always be prevented, the owner of a wooden building can take steps to safeguard its inhabitants or users in the event of a fire. For example, using stone wool insulation which is non-combustible and do not emit significant toxic fumes, to the contrary of other building materials.

ROCKWOOL’s stone wool insulation can protect the structure of a building in case of a fire. Installed around wooden beams, and between wall studs and rafters, stone wool insulation can withstand temperatures of 1,000°C. With such fireproofing, the likelihood of someone’s home or workplace being damaged decreases dramatically. Even Mjøstårnet employs ROCKWOOL’s stone wool as an element of its safety measures!

Check out this video to see ROCKWOOL’s stone wool in action.

[1] https://www.dezeen.com/2015/11/09/cross-laminated-timber-construction-architecture-timber-age/