A healthy dose – of wood?
As architects broaden their interest in sustainable design, understanding of what constitutes a ‘healthy building’ is also expanding. With asthma and allergies more prevalent than ever, merchants and builders may benefit from increasing their knowledge of this emerging field, researching products which might help to open up new markets.
Wood for Good has attended both of the two annual Healthy Buildings conferences run by the Association for Sustainable Building Products. Campaign director Christiane Lellig says it’s an important emerging field but the science is, as yet, still nascent:
“It’s important to make sure wood’s potential contribution to the healthy buildings agenda is right at the forefront, as this is where our products are having a significant impact on people’s lives and on the planet. We must assure it continues to be a positive one.
“Measurement techniques and instrumentation for gathering both broad and detailed data are partly still under development and in discussion, but one thing is certain: wood can make a positive contribution,” Christiane Lellig continues. “Wood’s hygroscopic properties help with regulating humidity levels and air quality in the building, and its biophilic effects, creating a calming natural environment, are already recognised by scientists and interior designers. Wood for Good is fully engaged with the healthy buildings agenda and will be issuing information throughout the year, so keep up-to-date via our website, or sign up for our newsletter.”
In terms of products for healthy building interiors, some architects prefer to set out detailed timber specifications, others seek advice from TTF members with specialist wood science knowledge.
“Specifying the right timber for the right purpose is the basis of sustainable design,” comments David Hopkins, the TTF’s Managing Director. “TTF members also undertake robust due diligence under our Responsible Purchasing Policy, ensuring that whichever species is specified, it comes from a legal and sustainable source.”
Some advocates of healthy buildings are concerned about the binders and resins used in certain types of manufactured timber products. Responding to such concerns, the Arnold Laver Group, continuing its tradition of seeking out-of-the- ordinary products to bring to market, are offering a range of panel products combining the visual and olfactory appeal of flowers, fruits and spices using natural binders.
Panel Products Category Manager and Birmingham Depot Director, Terry Palmer, explains: “Organoid panels were at the start of their development six years ago when Arnold Laver became involved. We could see their potential to chime with the healthy buildings agenda, and to offer designers and architects something completely unique. No two panels are alike. For high-end refurbishments and new- builds, these panels not only look good, they smell good! The backing and binders involved have been ecologically designed, with no use of biocides, plasticizers or solvents. The plant material content is grown organically in the Swiss Alps. The panels can be produced with either thermal insulating or acoustic properties, adding an extra layer of functionality to their sensory appeal.”
Another advanced product for improving interior environments is wood fibre insulation. TTF member Steico UK specialises in such products, suitable for both healthy buildings and Passivhaus design. Steico have themselves obtained Passivhaus certification.
National Sales Manager for Housebuilding, Craig Colligan, explains the benefits: “Wood fibre insulation is breathable, allowing the moisture in the building to pass through the fabric without the need for vapour barriers. It regulates the indoor climate more effectively, keeping the building warm in winter and cool in summer. When correctly specified, it can do anything that glass wool or PIR insulation can do, and has a service life of 50+ years. It’s made from sustainable wood fibre – we have both FSC® and PEC™ certification.”
Craig Colligan continues: “Different types of Steico wood fibre insulation are suitable for different applications. We have products that can be used between internal studding, for sarking, or be used externally behind, say, timber cladding to improve insulation. For older properties, perhaps more difficult to insulate, you can also use Steico insulation on the internal walls of rooms. In Europe it’s stocked in certain DIY chains, and is known and used by jobbing builders. It was initially a niche product, but is becoming more mainstream as the Passivhaus concept takes hold in architecture and design.”
Wood has long been associated with creating a positive sense of wellbeing in homes, schools, offices and hospitals. Technically advanced products are now making even more of a contribution to healthy buildings, proving that timber really is a material you can trust.