Building more with wood is good for sustainability

Building more with wood is good for sustainability

Building more with wood is good for sustainability

Wood is a material with many environmental benefits. Using wood in house construction is therefore a good way to contribute to long-term sustainability.

There is a strong and widespread unity on the benefits of using wood as a building material. An important advantage is that it contributes to today's general endeavor to create a long-term sustainable society.

  • Building with wood is among the most climate smart we can do, wrote Sven-Erik Bucht (S), then Minister for Rural Affairs, and Peter Eriksson (MP), then Minister for Housing in a joint debate article in the Dala-Demokraten (newspaper) a few years ago.

In the article, they emphasized, among other things:

  • Wood does not add new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, as growing forests bind and store carbon dioxide. The production of wooden houses requires less energy throughout its life cycle and causes less carbon dioxide emissions compared to other building materials. By increasing the use of wood, the climate impact of the entire construction process can be significantly reduced. This is important both for climate-smart growth and for sustainable development.


Sustainable construction
The construction industry is now characterized by the ambition to build sustainably. The concept of "sustainable construction" is included in all project descriptions. Construction should be ecologically, constructionally, economically and socially sustainable.
It is about choosing energy efficiently produced building materials and energy-efficient transport and production methods, but also about thinking about duration, possibilities to rebuild and reuse building materials.
Wood then has obvious advantages, as it is the only renewable material. Wood provides only a limited climate footprint and requires less energy and produces lower carbon dioxide emissions than other building materials during the construction process.
Figures from SCA show that when producing building materials, wood produces the least kg of carbon dioxide per tonne of building material. Since wood can in many contexts replace other building materials without compromising functionality, the carbon dioxide impact on the environment could be significantly reduced if wood was chosen as building material instead.

Reduced effect on climate
After the trees have been cut down and the wood harvested, it is a requirement in Sweden that a replanting takes place. By cutting down forests and planting new ones, the re-cultivated forests increase - with trees that better absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the photosynthesis.
This is one thing that the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, points out in its review "Industriellt byggande i trä - nuläge och prognos mot 2025" (Industrial construction in wood - current situation and forecast towards 2025). It shows that if forest is harvested, used with common sense and then replanted, it contributes in the most effective way to reducing the climate impact.
Furthermore, the growth of the wood raw material is greater than the harvest - and fast. Calculations based on studies by the IVL Swedish Environmental Institute and the yearbook for Forest Statistics show that the Swedish forest used is growing by about 100 million cubic meters every year. It's almost 200 cubic meters per minute.
In just a few minutes, the Swedish forest will then produce construction material corresponding to a multi-storey house in wood.

Fire protection requirements
Of course, there must be durability in multi-storey houses and other major properties in the event of a fire.
It is important to think preventively to prevent the spread of fire and thus minimize the amount of material that must be replaced if a fire still occurs..
The Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, BBR, has clearly formulated requirements for fire safety. There are requirements that apply to all new houses, regardless of building materials.
For multi-storey buildings there are special requirements for the facades. Not only should they resist direct fire. They should also be designed and treated so that they only develop a limited amount of smoke and heat. In addition, the spread of fire along the facade surface and inside the wall should be limited.
Impregnation with vacuum / pressure provides the best fire protection of buildings in wood and with wood panel. This gives the wood and the wood panels a permanent protection all around, on all four sides and edges.

Wooden frames preferred;
The IVL Swedish Environmental Institute and Sweden's Construction Industries have jointly studied the ”Byggandets miljöpåverkan” (Environmental impact of the Construction), including how newly-manufactured apartment buildings affect the climate during a life cycle.
That study shows that houses with solid timber frames affect the climate clearly less than houses with concrete frames.
In its report ”Byggproduktionens miljöpåverkan i förhållande till driften” (The environmental impact of construction production in relation to operations), Linköping University has shown that Sweden can significantly reduce the impact on the climate by building half of all future multi-dwelling buildings in wood.
The Trade Union for the Forest, Wood and Graphic industry has also claimed that it will be big benefits for the climate if you build with wood instead of steel or concrete.
Some of the trade union arguments:

  • Building with wood means that a large part of the production can take place in a specially adapted industry. This makes production more rational and efficient. Construction time is halved compared to building on site.
  • There will only be limited transport of modules to the areas where the new buildings will be located, which minimizes emissions and disruptions in traffic.
  • Sustainability in Sweden as a whole will be better if a large part of construction production can be established outside the increasingly crowded and more vulnerable (large) urban areas, close to the forest where the raw material is located and in areas where there is a great and vital need for jobs.


Better quality
Building prefabricated also improves the durability of the construction workers. This is pointed out by Anders Gustafsson at SP Sweden's Technical Research Institute, who has researched wood construction and participated in and developed building systems for houses with wooden frames. In the magazine Hållbart byggande he says:
- Wood can handle large loads in relation to its own weight, which makes it especially suitable for prefabrication. It goes without saying that it is easier to make good quality indoors in good temperature than outdoors when it is raining, windy and cold.
In the same newspaper, the reporter Hans Hellberg also cites other people who highlight the benefits of wood in terms of financial sustainability. Often it is easier and thus cheaper to build in wood instead of with materials such as concrete or steel.
- It is a rational way of building where you have good control over costs, materials and resource management. It will affect the price level when the construction market is not as overheated as it is today, says Susanne Rudenstam, head of the Swedish Wood Building Council.
- Since you are building a wooden house of less than half the construction time compared to a concrete and steel house, there is a lot of time to earn. As interest rates rise, wooden house construction will be of interest to many, predicts Arne Olsson, CEO of Folkhem, which only builds wood.
Olsson urges politicians to do more to increase construction with wood.
- If you really want to stop climate change, you should make sure that it is built more in wood instead of in concrete. For example, the public procurement requirements should be changed to make it easier to choose wooden houses.

For future generations
Wood is the only conceivable choice for the company Derome Hus, which wants to build Sweden's first climate-neutral housing area in Gothenburg:
- There is currently no other frame material that gives lower climate impact than wood, says the company's sustainability manager Anna Ryberg Henriksson.
Building with wood thus has many advantages for sustainability - in all its forms.
It is the only renewable raw material and is also less energy intensive during production than other building materials.
Therefore, by using wood to a greater extent, it also creates a more long-term social sustainability.
This gives a positive development in the present that will also benefit the future generations.
As new trees grow, also the future of faith grows.


The post in short

Knowledge area Sustainability
Area of Method Fire impregnation
Author Hans Olov Ohlson
Location Sweden