Aug 19, 2015

Wood can put sustainability at the root of solving the housing shortage

David Hopkins, executive director at Wood for Good - the timber industry’s sustainability campaign – explains the organisation’s Build with Carbon campaign and how increased timber-framed construction could provide a means to delivering modern sustainable homes quickly, without additional cost

With a pledge to deliver annual targets of upwards of 200,000 new homes - no small feat - the housing shortfall is one of the central challenges facing the newly-elected government.

While these homes are necessary, delivering them will have a significant impact on emissions – given that the built environment is already one of the UK’s largest sources of emissions. With more still needing to be done to address climate change and reduce the country’s CO2 emissions to ensure EU targets are met, sustainability needs to be central to the construction of these homes.

Using timber systems could help address both problems simultaneously: meeting housing need while also reducing emissions.

Trees capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere when they grow and naturally convert this into the carbon which forms wood. We estimate that this carbon storage process, for mixed woodland forestry, costs roughly £25-30 per tonne of CO2 captured – the cheapest and safest form of carbon capture and storage available.

The carbon dioxide sequestered by trees and stored in timber products is in fact greater than the carbon emitted throughout the rest of the production supply chain for timber products.

This means that buildings constructed with timber, are actually net carbon stores rather than emitters – but this hasn’t always been easy to communicate meaningfully. We aimed to illustrate the point through our Build with Carbon campaign, which looked at the level of CO2 that could be stored by new homes if timber products were used.

We calculated that a three-bedroom timber-framed house would have 19 tonnes of CO2 stored in the wood products used. Scaling this up, if the 200,000 new homes targeted to be built every year were delivered using timber-frame construction, the UK could store nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

The campaign demonstrated that the built environment – the UK’s number one contributor to carbon emissions – could be made more sustainable by house builders delivering homes that were also carbon stores. And this could be achieved simply by increasing the use of one of the world’s oldest natural building materials.

In addition, when you factor in the speed of build afforded by off-site methods using timber – where project times can be reduced by up to 14 weeks – the merits of the world’s only renewable, mainstream natural building material become very apparent. Through this route the construction industry could deliver much-needed homes more quickly while making a positive contribution to the UK’s climate change goals.

Please see our Build With Carbon animations for more detail

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Timber Research and Development Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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