Wood’s carbon performance relative to the key construction and manufacturing materials it can substitute has been extensively analysed. It is calculated that producing a tonne each of steel and aluminum generates 1.24 tonnes of and 9.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide respectively. By contrast, wood absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Increasing the use of sustainable timber in construction has been recognized as a key method of reducing carbon emissions by the Climate Change Commission in the UK Housing: Fit for the future report, by the Royal Institute of Engineers and Royal Academy in the Greenhouse Gas Removal report, and internationally by the United Nations in the Emissions Gap – Report 2019.
Currently more than 50,000 homes in the UK are built using timber frame, but there is significant variation in the use of timber in the UK (83% of new housing starts in Scotland using timber frame, compared to 30.7% in Wales, 22.8% in England, and 17.4% in Northern Ireland). It is crucial the UK Government introduces policies to encourage greater use of sustainable materials in construction.
The Climate Change Commission estimates that if timber were used to build 270,000 new houses, this would increase the amount of carbon stores in UK homes to 3 Mt. This is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions which 636,943 vehicles will emit in a year. This was complemented by a UK study which found that using timber frames rather than masonry can reduce carbon embodied emissions by around 20% per building.