Mention timber buildings, and most people think of Wendy houses, log cabins, fire hazards or deforestation. According to Roy Southey, executive director for Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) the opposite is true. “The consumption of sustainable wood can help combat deforestation. Well-managed planted forests (plantations) reduce soil erosion, maintain the water balance in the surrounding areas and provide refuge for an array of species, thereby preserving biodiversity,” says Southey.

Timber adds a lot of value to buildings. Photo by Earthworld

Timber adds a lot of value to buildings. Photo by Earthworld

Trees are nature’s biggest carbon sinks. As they grow, they absorb (sequester) carbon dioxide and store it as carbon in leaves, trunks, roots, and soil.

“The procurement of renewable, sustainably produced wood by the construction sector holds the greatest potential for climate change mitigation,” says Southey.

South Africa has 1.2 million hectares of farmed trees which sequester around 64.8 million tonnes of carbon. These trees are planted, harvested, and replanted for the purpose of making sawn timber, pulp, and paper products, among other things.

When a harvested tree is made into a solid wood product or pulp for paper, the carbon remains locked up in those products. When the land is replanted with new trees, the carbon cycle begins all over again.

Good for building

Timber plantations represent 7% of the planet’s forest areas yet provide 50% of the wood for industrial purposes.

“There is an exciting move by architects as they look to the forest products sector for carbon-neutral and renewable options,” adds Southey.

Timber competes well with concrete and steel, in that it offers strength, can withstand seismic activity (not such a big factor in South Africa), and is much lighter to transport. “Timber structures are often prefabricated off-site, reducing both the construction times and associated costs,” he notes.

Modern wood-based construction materials are safe if treated and used correctly. They will also maintain their integrity in most fire situations, and will not melt, deform, or collapse.