Innovations in Construction and European Timber
Timber has the advantage of being a flexible material which reduces construction times, and it also impacts positively upon sustainability and energy conservation(s). Aesthetically speaking, it can produce some of the most stunning and sustainable residential and commercial buildings.
The EU recently unveiled their ‘action plan’ for Europe’s building sector. This ambitious plan is designed to create a foundation for the construction sector with an emphasis on competitiveness. In addition to boosting innovation, other goals include enabling the construction sector to become a driving force in sustainable growth within the EU.
Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship outlined the fact that given the current unstable economic and social conditions, low energy buildings are viable and safe investments for private investors and society as a whole. He went on to highlight the fact that this was an opportunity for the construction sector to not only innovate, but to also attract new talent. There is considerable potential for building new energy efficient and sustainable buildings, and to renovate existing buildings in order to bring them in line with the EU 2020 objectives.
So what does this mean for Europe’s forest industry? Europe’s growth strategy for the coming decade, Europe 2020, lays the foundations for the EU to become an inclusive, smart and sustainable economy in a changing world.
Forest Strategy 2020
Forest Strategy 2020 aims to achieve a vision for the forest sector that is innovative, sustainable and has long-term multi-functionality. Forest Strategy 2020 plays an important role in contributing to Europe 2020 strategy, as well as additional 2020 targets. This is to be accomplished with a view to supporting forest related employment; as well as future economic, social and environmental needs.
Forested and wooded land comprises 40% of the EU’s total land area. Given the fact that forests contribute to employment in rural areas, it’s no surprise that the forest sector has been identified as having great potential in terms of moving Europe towards a bio-based economy. Forest Strategy 2020 encourages the efficient use of sustainably grown wood. It also identifies the fact that opportunities and challenges within different value chains that use wood as a raw material, either partially or wholly, should be addressed. This obviously includes the construction industry.
Wood is generally considered to be a carbon-neutral material due to the absorption of CO2 during photosynthesis over the course of a tree’s life. Timber has the distinct advantages of being both renewable and recyclable, and this has led to the timber frame method of construction becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Europe’s construction industry has become accountable to the challenges posed by climate change and initiatives to promote sustainable development.
In order to build energy efficient residential and commercial properties, the construction must focus on building methods that do not use massive amounts of CO2 during their construction.
A Sustainable Future for Construction
An increasing awareness of ongoing environmental concerns over diminishing resources and man-made climate change has led to a renaissance in timber frame constructions. In fact, timber frame construction has been used in the construction of buildings since Neolithic times. Timber frame buildings already account for 90% of all low-rise buildings in Canada and the USA. Scandinavian countries also have a long tradition of timber houses, and Scandinavian style prefabricated timber homes are becoming increasingly popular in other European countries, including the UK.
Timber from sustainably managed European sources is an environmentally friendly option when it comes to constructing residential and non-residential buildings. When viewed from a perspective of sustainability, European timber that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited is carbon neutral. Concrete releases carbon dioxide during the manufacturing process and has a high embodied energy value. Fossil fuel by-products are burned during the process of manufacturing steel, so timber as a building material clearly boasts superior environmental credentials. There can be no doubt that the utilisation of European timber in Europe’s construction sector will make a positive contribution towards EU 2020 objectives for sustainable growth.
Further benefits of timber frame construction using wood from European sources stem from EU legislation that stipulates member states should be committed to managing forests sustainably. This ensures ongoing environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits at this present time, and for future generations. It is estimated that over 90% of all timber that is consumed in the EU actually originates from European forests. In the UK alone, it is estimated that 99% of UK timber frame is manufactured from European softwood.
Exciting Developments in Timber Frame – Balehaus
The EU funded Balehaus project is being pioneered as a flagship for sustainable building methods that could help the UK to reach its targets for reducing carbon emissions. Straw bale building uses a timber frame and straw bales to create sustainable buildings that can be easily manufactured from local renewable resources. Like timber, straw also absorbs CO2 throughout the course of its life, so it is carbon neutral. In fact, some have suggested that straw may actually have a negative carbon footprint.
Balehaus could be laying the foundations for straw bale building, and this £1.6 million research project has brought attention to the University of Bath, as new industry standards are currently in the process of being set. The two-storey Balehaus building explores the properties of low carbon materials such as straw bales, hemp and timber as building materials. Architects have been paying close attention to the project at the University of Bath and monitoring its progress over the course of the last couple of years.
The European Commission’s Executive Agency for Competitiveness & Innovation made funding available for Balehaus, and this also addresses the development of the pre-fabricated ModCell straw panels used in the construction of Balehaus within the EU market.
The ModCell panels use a structural timber frame that is filled in with straw bales and then finished with a lime render. In fact, this is very similar to the way in which straw bale buildings are generally constructed, and it is a further development that the group hopes will ensure an increase in the popularity of straw bale buildings throughout Europe.
Lead researcher Professor Pete Walker is confident that straw bale buildings represent a long lasting, sustainable and durable solution. On the whole, straw bale developments have generally been public buildings. But Balehaus extends this technology to residential dwellings. Mortgage lenders and insurance companies will require a guarantee that the building is durable and can last for hundreds of years, and industry certification will be also be necessary. This also includes the certification of ModCell panels, and the project is also examining the prospect of up scaling production. However, it is recognised that if the panels are to be used by the domestic construction market, the price must be accessible.
The Balehaus panels have been produced locally and by hand, but the potential for mass-production is already being explored. This will go a long way in reducing costs and ensuring an adequate supply, so the panels are a viable solution for the domestic straw bale houses.
The University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering have collaborated with architectural practice White Design Associates, ModCell and Integral Engineering and Dutch company BB-Architecten to explore this exciting and innovative solution. Perhaps in coming years it could lead to a number of residential straw bale dwellings throughout Europe that have been built with local sustainable timber and locally grown straw.