Living in Timber Homes - Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

South Africa’s Wood Foundation says timber homes are the construction method used in 70% of all homes in the developed world.

In supporting green building practices and the transformation to a greener built environment, the Wood Foundation, a non profit organization, promotes the generic uses of wood as one of the few genuinely renewable building materials grown in sustainably managed forestry plantations.

Of all mainstream-building products, wood scores the lowest in terms of its carbon footprint impact, also as a result of its high recyclability and use as secondary material, thereby extending the carbon sink process even further. These properties mean that the higher the proportion of wood used in the construction of a building, the lower its carbon footprint.

The Wood Foundation is supported by key industry leaders who share the philosophy of promoting wood through the value chain, from those planting and growing trees through to homeowners. The foundation’s primary objectives are to promote and encourage the growing of trees and use of wood products, to educate and reinforce the awareness of the attributes of wood as a preferred structural material, to promote wood as a naturally renewable and environmentally friendly product, and to reinforce the wood “brand” throughout SA and outside its borders.

Timber frame homes are no newcomer to the local building industry, yet SA ranks low in the number of houses constructed from timber as the main building material. This despite the positive attributes of wood as a naturally renewable and environmentally friendly product, particularly in view of the country’s huge housing shortages. Yet, in other countries such as North America its abundance of timber supplies has lead to more than 90% of homes there being constructed from timber, while timber’s aesthetic appearance has also enjoyed recognition. Timber homes construction in the US date back as far as the founding of the country, and some timber structures built during the 1800s in the city of Boston are still standing today.

Referring to SA’s timber homes of bygone eras is Rosemary Rudd who illustrated the durability of timber in her book South African Timber Buildings - A Craft Revived, showing a number of timber frame houses in SA that were built as far as 200 years ago. Rudd’s discovery of hundreds of picturesque timber homes that are still standing, shows that the material is durable enough to withstand the tests of time in local weather conditions. She says many timber homes were ordered from catalogues and sent from England to SA in kit form in the past. A few historical buildings and national monuments originally constructed in timber have been restored to their former glory and remain in use, while most have been destroyed.

The Wood Foundation says timber is a high performance building material, which is low in weight and high in density with excellent load bearing and thermal capabilities. Wood in itself is resistant to heat, frost, corrosion and pollutants. Only excessive moisture and UV degradation needs to be managed and with the wide range of quality sealants available combined with chemical preservatives, it stands to reason why this construction method is so popular in the developed world.

Roy Southey, Chairman of The Wood Foundation says: “With timber construction being realised and adopted as an eco-friendly, safer, more cost-effective and quicker to erect option by leading countries worldwide, it stands to reason that it presents itself as the best solution to our own housing shortage crisis.”

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