Despite the obvious use of a natural material in its construction, is an oak framed building greener for the environment? At each stage of its use, the environmental benefits of using oak as a construction material are manifold. In the wake of the recent mini budget of 8th July 2020, the environmental impact of our homes is prominent in the minds of all homeowners. With £2 billion in grants pledged for ‘green’ upgrades to domestic properties, a more energy efficient home is within reach for many. The use of oak in construction has many positive factors in its favour, not all of them obvious. From planting to manufacture, oak use has a low environmental impact, in some cases actually giving elements back. When the home is built and in use, oak has a number of physical properties that continue to reduce fuel and energy consumption.
Before Construction Use
During their life cycle, oak trees absorb carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere. Oxygen is liberated from this and released from the leaves, while the carbon is incorporated into the tree structure. When the tree is felled this carbon is locked in the timber, making oak a carbon neutral material. Over one hundred species of plants and animals can live on one oak tree and even when felled the stump provides shelter and food.
All reputable timber merchants will ensure that the oak they use comes from a sustainable, accredited source. In Europe, this certification is provided by two bodies. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC) promotes responsible forest management, advising owners and authorities on best practice. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) provide chain of custody certification, guaranteeing ethical and responsible handling of timber from grower to user. To be sure any oak purchased is ethically sourced, always check for certification by both bodies.
Sustainable forest management ensures new trees are planted to replace all those felled, preventing deforestation. Replanting maintains the biosphere, providing food and shelter for other species and avoiding soil erosion that could cause desertification. Younger oak trees also absorb a greater volume of carbon dioxide than the older trees they replace. As oak trees typically grow to a height of eighteen to thirty metres, each tree yields a large volume of timber. Consequently, fewer trees need to be felled to produce a large amount of material.
Manufacture And Building
Unlike other construction materials, timber does not require mining, casting or chemical processing, all of which can damage the environment. Mining, especially on an industrial scale, depletes natural resources and deprives plants and animals of food and a home. Chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic building materials can cause pollution or release harmful gases into the atmosphere, poisoning wildlife. Most oak not produced in Britain is imported from Western Europe, using less fuel to transport than timber from further afield.
There are no dangerous by products produced during timber preparation and minimal carbon dioxide emissions released. Little or no water is used during production, especially compared to synthetic material manufacture. As it only needs to be cut to size and possibly planed to finish the surfaces, little machinery is involved. Although it is technically a hardwood, the higher moisture content of green oak makes it easier to work. Therefore, less fuel is needed and emissions are further reduced.
Even compared to other timber, oak needs no staining, bleaching or chemical preservatives to ready it for use. As a result, when it finally is used for building no chemicals will be released to pollute the surrounding area. This is especially true of exterior use, where rain could release these chemicals and poison wildlife. Any waste produced is biodegradable or can be used for other purposes. Small leftover pieces can be used to make pegs or braces for the oak frame. Sawdust can be used as animal bedding and offcuts can be air dried to produce slow burning fuel. Once large beams and timber frame pieces are cut from the log, the thin remaining timber can be used to make cladding. Oak frames for home building or renovation can be supplied in kit form, making building quick and easy. Large amounts of equipment are unnecessary and those used will not be in operation for long, reducing fuel use and emissions.
Oak is a hardwearing, long lasting building material and the longevity of oak framed buildings is renowned. Barring major accidents, an oak framed house will outlast generations of owners. Oak is naturally water resistant due to the high levels of tannins present in the timber. As time passes and the oak dries it becomes even more resistant and will never have to be treated with chemical preservatives. Unlike softer woods oak will rarely, if ever, have to be repaired or replaced due to decay. Oak is also naturally resistant to insects and fungi that could attack and damage the wood, making synthetic pesticides unnecessary.
Due to its density, oak has natural sound insulating properties, reducing noise pollution from outside and deadening echoes inside. Oak is also a good heat insulator, helping to maintain a constant internal building temperature. As a result, central heating and air conditioning will not be used as often, reducing energy use. For extra insulation, sealed units can be placed in the cavities between frame members. Newer designs use natural insulation such as recycled wood fibres or wool, making them a complementary environmentally friendly choice.
At Hardwoods group we are committed to only using responsibly farmed and ethically sourced European oak. Our passion for quality informs all elements of our design and production processes to ensure you receive the best product every time. All our oak is PEFC and FSC certified to ensure environmentally conscious production and delivery. Contact us to discuss your requirements, we will be happy to help.