Timber Architecture: 10 Benefits of Wood Based Designs
Timber Frame Home from Egeon Architecten
In this article we’ll emblaze the kindling of our creative imaginations by exploring and detailing the benefits of wood based designs. This article isn’t going to exclusively revolve upon wooden houses, but use of wood within designs and construction also. Wood is a wondrous material; hopefully you’ll agree upon conclusion of this article.
1. Exceptional Insulator & Energy Saver
Some building materials such as steel, inorganic materials which are non-combustible, expand when heated which can weaken and collapse the structure. Wood reacts in an almost opposite manner to this. When heated (not excessively to a combustible temperature of course), wood dries and actually becomes even harder.
Let’s make some comparisons here. Glass conducts heat 23 times faster than wood, marble 90 times faster, steal 1650 times faster and aluminium a whopping 7000 times faster.
This means less energy ‘leakage’ from a home. If you want the warmth (or coolness) to remain in your home, and you want to spend less money on heating (or cooling), wood is a tremendous alternative to brick, concrete or stone. Compared to other construction materials, wood, economically is a star child of insulation.
- In brief: Using wood saves on heating bills and using wooden frames within structures is thrifty.
- Fact: Wood actually does expand slightly when air humidity drops below 0%, however this won’t affect the constructors amongst us as even in the most parchedness of climates, humidity doesn’t drop below 5%.
Wooden Insulation from Greenspec
2. Quick to Build: Saves Money
“People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.” Albert Einstein. Looks like he hit the nail on the head there. People like quick inexpensive results, and that’s exactly what wood can offer.
Some wooden home manufacturers can construct a 100m² wooden house, on site within 7 days. Imagine popping to Florida for a two week vacation, returning home to discover a new building has sprung up in your neighbours garden. I told you wood was impressive!
When compared with brick, stone or concrete, wood constructions certainly do save time, and inherently with that come savings in labour. This is especially applicable in harsh weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow and icy conditions, where wood construction can continue without hindrance. It has also been said from a builder friend of mine that plans for wooden structures are easier to follow than brick, concrete or using steel frames (feel free to comment on this in the comments section as I don’t know the validity of this comment).
Wood-framed houses enable easy modifications during and after the building process and it’s because of the ease, versatility and cost effectiveness which makes it such a popular and inexpensive choice. Insulated concrete form homes (ICF) can be costly, troublesome and time consuming to alter post build.
Timber Frame Home from Egeon Architecten
3. Environmentally friendly
Green is the big thing these days so of course this is going to be a big feature in this article. Houses made from trees are sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly. Did you know that wooden structures absorb and store atmospheric CO2 and that wood, even taking into account haulage, is carbon neutral (in fact, it’s the only carbon neutral construction material).
Fact: 0.8 tonnes of carbon emissions are saved for every cubic metre of wood which is used in construction, therefore, if a home uses 20 cubic metres of wood, that’s a saving of 16 tonnes in carbon. In context, 16 tonnes of carbon is the same amount of carbon produced by driving 90,000 kilometers (as a very crude estimate). Using wood in construction, whether it’s a complete construction of just the wooden frames, really does have a positive impact on climate change.
Most westernized countries have legislation where at least one tree has to be planted for every tree which has been cut. This is significant because it means there will be more wood on the planet, which means more carbon absorption. Let us not put our blinders on though, deforestation is a despicably saddening fact, therefore make sure your source of wood isn’t questionable.
Mature trees actually use absorb less carbon than younger, faster growing trees, therefore it could be beneficial in the battle on climate change to cut the older trees, use them in construction and plant new carbon munching trees in their place.
4. Aesthetically Acrobatic
With over 5000 different woods to choose from, there is absolutely going to be something that’ll suit ones construction or design desires. Some woods are ideal for insulation, some for acoustics, grain, color, appearance, and others for structural frames, walls, floors, ceilings and furniture.
In my personal opinion, the grain on a piece of wood is one of the most mesmerizing beauties in the natural world, where different hues of color and textures roll back into each other like an enchanting dance. I’m not over embellishing it either. Some of the most breath taking architectural designs are wood centered.
Wood can be painted in any color and can be waxed and varnished which’ll brandish its natural finesse. It can be carved, cut, glued and nailed.
Wood is so versatile and aesthetically delightful, the only limit to what one can make with it is restricted by ones imagination. Just like Albert Einstein has said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’ and, ‘Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions’. Here’s my own personal spin on that quote, ‘Imagination is everything. It is the preview of remarkable designs and engineering feats, yet to be materialized’.
Demonstration of the versatility of wood
5. Mechanical Properties & Working Properties
A few months ago, in conversation with a horticultural friend of mine, I was discussing a taxus baccata (European yew) hedge with him; what he likes to call, ‘Taxus baccata is the hedge with the edge’! We progressed onto the topic of wood density. I always knew the taxus baccata was a very hard wood because it only grows about 5cm per annum, but I wondered whether it was harder than oak. This led me to the ‘Janka’ hardness test which measures how resistant the wood is to denting and wear.
To test the hardness of a given wood, the test measures the force required to embed an 11.28mm steel ball half way into the wood. It turns out that the yew requires 1500 pounds of force while oak fall just shy at around 1300 lbs.
I’ve said all that to illuminate ones perspective of the incredible variety of properties wood can have, which could inspire one to investigate new types of wood in upcoming projects. What’s the hardest wood I hear some say, well that would be the Australian Buloke which requires 5060 pounds of force. One of the softest woods is from a cuipo tree, which requires 22 pounds of force, far softer than the better known balsa wood which comes in at 100 lbs.
I’m going to get even more technical on you now so skip this if it doesn’t tickle you. Wood, although light has a remarkably high tensile strength. Let’s take wood which has a tensile strength of 0,6/cm3 and the specific gravity is 100 N/mm2, as well as steel which has a tensile strength of 7,89/cm3 and the specific gravity is 500 N/mm2.
If we divide the tensile strength by the gravity, the given figure will tell us the quality of the material and its breaking length. The ‘breaking length’ means the point at which the material breaks under its own weight. Steel which is used in buildings has a breaking point of 5.4km and hardened bow steel 17.5km.
When we compare the tensile strength of steel to two varieties of wood, spruce and laminated beech, the respective breaking lengths are 19.8km and 28.3km. Now you know why laminated wood is used on the floors of sports halls!
When it comes to how workable wood is, few things can surpass it. Wood can be whittled in beautiful and creative ways, which can make for almost magical designs. The accuracy and finish that can be achieved with wood can help carve an ordinary design into something extraordinary. Further to that, wood is fairly easy to maintain and to repair, so if it goes wrong, fixing the problem won’t burn a too big of a hole in ones wallet.
Visualization of the Janka hardness test
6. Safe, Light, Sturdy & Durable
One of the many reasons why wood is still used today, despite huge strides in engineering excellence, is its durability weight and safety. Wood has a little bit of give in it which means it can bend slightly, which is a property which bricks don’t have. Therefore, if the foundations shift slightly, the wooden home can flex and move with the change rather than crack. Even the smallest shift in the foundations of a brick house will case cracks to appear in the mortar (not a good look).
Talking about foundations, one reason that most of the houses in the south east of the USA are wooden is because the soil is weak. Heavy brick can cause the ground to sink, therefore light wooden houses are preferred; nobody wants to become the victim of a sink hole.
Back to cost again here, but in a similar vain of thought, wooden houses are prevalent (and sometimes required) in the south east because they are cheaper to rebuild if destroyed by a hurricane. It seems a category 5 hurricane will destroy a brick build as well as a wooden one.
Light wooden structure from Mesh Design+ Projects
7. Water Resistant
While many woods soak in moisture and water, causing them to swell, there are some varieties of wood which are highly water resistant. A study has been conducted into the absorption rates of of four different varieties of wood, Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce. The woods were dried so that their moisture content ranged from 6-10% and were then left outside, covered. After one year, the moisture level of Western Cedar was between 9-11%, while the others ranged between 14-21%. The increase in moisture absorption from the untreated cedar wood was minimal.
This study demonstrates that even though some woods have a tendency to absorb moisture, there are particular varieties of wood which will not have that tendency. I’m sure there are some woods which are used specifically for their high absorption rates, and some, such as cedar for their low absorption rate.
Continuous Exterior Skin of Cedar Slats
8. Healthy & Natural
Electrostatic charge: This is a big deal for some people as electrostatic charges are believed to be unhealthy to some degree. Good news folks, wood emits zero electrostatic charge; nada, zilch! Just make
If a room is finished with an uncoated wood, it’ll help regulate the humidity which could aid in helping people with respiratory sensitivity. Not only does it regulate humidity, just the mere look of wood can sooth ones mind and relax the nervous system (so I’ve heard!). Just make sure the humidity doesn’t make the wood too moist, otherwise that static electricity benefit could be thrown out the window.
For these reasons, wood is deemed to be a healthy choice over metal, plastic and other materials.
Relaxing wooden tones – TOTeMS Architecture
9. Acoustically Sound
Even though wood doesn’t act as a perfect sound insulator, it does prevent echoes from bouncing around the room by absorbing sound waves. When compared to its constructive competitors, wood proves to be much more effective at sound insulation, especially when it comes to insulating between different rooms.
Wood is also used in many concert halls around the world as it naturally dampens sound, creating that perfect tone within the room.
Wood being used to improve acoustics at Soka University concert hall
10. Rust be Gone
Last but not least, wood doesn’t rust. Even though it can oxidize in some form, it is statistically insignificant when compared with metal. True, there are some metals that don’t rust, but they’re more expensive; and can you really criticize wood after we’ve learned how wonderful it is!
Further example of versitility of wood – The Solar Fab Lab House by IAAC Imaginative Windows
Eleagant Wooden Curves – TOTeMS Architecture
In conclusion : Wood is one of the daddies of construction materials: Wood is good.