More than half a million years ago, humans started building tools and shelter out of animal bones, antler, stone and wood. If we are to find out the history of wooden houses it will take us back to the stone age for sure. During 9000 to 5000 BC, the largest structures in the world were the Neolithic longhouses, a long and narrow timber structure housing 20 to 30 people. Such dwelling was built by first farmers in Europe, Central Europe to be exact in connection with the early Neolithic cultures such as the Linear Pottery culture or Cucuteni culture.
Wattle and daub, a composite construction material used for making walls have been used for at least 6,000 years and is still an extensive building material in many parts of the world. In this method, Wattle, a woven mesh or lattice of wooden strips is daubed with an adhesive substance usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung, and straw. This method is still used extensively and is considered one of the low-impact sustainable building technique ever introduced.
If the construction industry is considered, wood has played a vital role in its evolution and growth aspects. As more and more elements and materials were found throughout the ages, woodwork skills became further enhanced and so did the edifices which were built. Discovery of steel, bronze, etc changed and improved the way wood is utilized and applied for construction. Wood has shaped our lives and it is still the most conventional choice for both buildings and furnishings.
Advantages of Wood as a building material
Wooden houses are environmental-friendly, durable and renewable. Its astonishing features makes it a dependable resource for housing and similar purposes. Rustic wood cabin is one of the most popular uses for wood in construction. Here are the most craving advantages of wood over any other building materials, other than it aesthetical pleasingness.
The insulating property of wood is one of its major advantages. It has the natural ability to isolate cold from heat. When compared with other building materials such as steel and concrete, wood products increase the building’s energy efficiency and minimize the energy consumed throughout the product’s existence. Wood is an excellent thermal insulator and noise absorber. Due to its low thermal conductivity compared to steel and concrete, wood structures are easier to insulate to a greater standard. Wood posses low embodied energy. Embodied energy is an accounting method which aims to find the sum total of the energy required for an entire product life-cycle. LCA researches consistently prove that wood beats any other building materials in this area.
Wooden houses are quicker and easier to build when compared with other housing solutions. This capability of wooden structures helps in significant monetary saving. A recent study carried out in South Carolina, USA showed wood frame houses saving 14 percent in construction costs compared with identical steel frame houses. Wood can achieve a saving of 7-9 percent in material costs alone. Although the availability of quality wood is again a question, experiments in the developed countries and most of the developing countries establish wooden structures as the most economical and nature-friendly solution than anything else.
Resistance to the lateral forces
Wood-frame constructions such as wooden houses are earthquake-proof.
Studies prove that log homes and similar wooden structures have many advantages during seismic activities. If you check out the history, even the most disastrous 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Hyogo-Ken Nambu, Japan could not overthrow the huge and mighty wood-framed pagodas in the country.
Wood is a flexible choice for construction. It can be cut, re-sized and modeled on-site much easier than any materials used. It is light weighted and provides higher workability. Wooden structures can be dismantled, transported and reworked effectively. These properties of wood make it incomparable with any other construction solutions. Wood provides unmatchable comfort, quality and architectural versatility than other building resources.
Wood is the only building material that is renewable and sustainable at the same time. Most of the other construction resources require high amounts of fossil fuels to produce whereas the wooden structures help the environment by actively absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and water pollution, wood is a much better choice than steel and concrete. Steel and concrete absorb 12% and 20% more energy, release 15% and 29% more greenhouse gases, and deliver 10% and 12% more pollutants into the air, and create 300% and 225% more water pollutants than wood, respectively. When considering the environmental impacts of any other building material, wood is always a better way to build.
Cons of having a wooden house
Though wood is the most sustainable and traditional way to build housing solutions, it has plenty of disadvantages which will make you think twice before going forward with the construction. Since wood is a plant-based material, it is vulnerable to environmental conditions and wood pests. Processed wood is not an ideal solution for any of these problems and it has structural weakness and sensitivity issues compared to any other building materials. To repair the wood damages, it requires refinishing or replacement in some cases. Although it may seem like an ideal solution at the first look, there are plenty of other reasons which will make it not stand up to RCC or brick based solutions.
A large variety of pests are attracted to– and can destroy– wood. Most of these pests are almost impossible to identify, highly expensive to eradicate, and can even destroy your dream mansion way before you identify the underlying damage. According to Identifying and controlling wood-destroying insects by PJ Pelliteri and W.L Gojmerac wood destroying pests can be divided into four categories ie, 1) Carpenter ants, 2) Termites, 3) Bark beetles and wood borers and 4) Powderpost beetles. Although the damage caused by these pests may be invisible at plain sight, it will kill the structures slowly and mercilessly and when the symptoms begin to show up, it will be too late to repair.
Metals and synthetic materials are preferred than wood in most cases due to durability issues. Cases, where the material should withstand high weight loads, multiple impacts, extremely high or low temperatures, wooden structures, are not at all preferred. There are a variety of methods available where the general wood is treated or coupled with other layers which enhance the durability of the structure. In most of the cases, it’s not opted because of the availability of cheaper plastic alternatives which gives the appearance of wood but can last longer with less maintenance.
Biotic agents such as decay, decay and mold fungi, bacteria and insects, and abiotic factors such as sun, wind, water, certain chemicals and fire can cause deterioration on wooden resources. Wood is a biopolymer which is subjective to biotic and abiotic degradative processes. Sun, fire and even water can have adverse effects on timber. Temperature, humidity are all factors that can make wood warp. Depending on the climatic and other conditions wood may warp by swelling, shrinking, or twisting. If the environmental conditions don’t meet certain requirements, wood can be a bad choice for fine calculation applications.
As we all know, wood can burn. Wooden structures are a bad alternative for applications where fire safety is a concern. Some type of treated woods emits poisonous gases and chemicals upon incineration which can be extremely fatal for closed spaces and congested chambers. Fire retardants that can be used for wooden structures can only reduce the inflammability of the wood as it slows down or eliminates the progressive combustion. It can’t be relied on preventing the burning in the presence of an external source of the fire.
In some of the developed countries such as the US and Canada, there is a long history of building wooden houses due to the availability of cheap wood in the past. But times are changing as more people are shifting to brick and RCC due to the highly spoken disadvantages of wooden structures. Although wood is much affordable than brick, according to a study conducted by RS MEans and Brick industry association, the national average total construction cost of a clay brick-sided home is only two percent more than wood and fiber cement. This entire math depends on the availability and other factors.
The modern construction industry is pretty much versatile to overcome the existing vulnerabilities of any kind of architecture. To choose or not to choose wood for construction is a matter of vital importance but it is very difficult to argue for the type of material that can be used for housing because, in the end, it is the personal choice that matters. We hope you’ve analyzed the pros and cons of wooden structures and housing solutions from the article. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments if any.