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Building towards a Zero-Carbon Future

Simon Horn discusses the benefits of timber frame to the construction industry as a versatile, green building material for a zero-carbon future.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed major challenges for the industry, it has also offered opportunities to consider the adoption of fresh initiatives that drive better efficiency.
Currently, the UK needs new housing stock built quickly and at volume, all while meeting heightened green targets and delivering significant cost savings.

As a meaningful solution, timber frame construction offers considerable benefits in each of those areas. Not only is it beneficial to housebuilders but building in timber contributes to the UK’s commitment to combat climate change while improving heat retention and reducing CO2 emissions within new homes.

In growth through photosynthesis, timber absorbs carbon from the atmosphere which would otherwise add to the greenhouse effect. Europe’s 400 billion trees currently absorb almost nine per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, use of timber in a building will store the carbon for the life cycle of that building.

Timber frames draw in carbon from the atmosphere and store it, with the largest potential for this achieved in external walls, intermediate floors, and roof structures. In fact, on average, replacing just one cubic metre of concrete with timber in construction can save a tonne of CO2 emissions.
Arguably, the better news is that it takes very little energy to convert the wood from trees to the timber used in building. This means that the embodied energy in timber is low. Indeed, it is the lowest of almost all common building materials.

Timber continues to perform well when compared directly with other materials. Life cycle studies of timber frame homes show that they significantly outperform alternatives – timber saves about 40 per cent of carbon emissions in comparison to concrete and about 30 per cent compared to steel. According to the Committee on Climate Change, “Using wood in construction to displace high-carbon materials such as cement and steel is one of the most effective ways to use limited biomass resources to mitigate climate change.”

With the industry under pressure to deliver improved energy efficiency and the market expected to be fragile for some time following the effects of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that we identify methods by which to achieve government targets and uplift the new green economy – and timber frame construction must undoubtedly be considered a leading example.

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