We caught up with Nigel Buckley-Ryan, Sales Director at Södra – Sweden’s largest forest-owner and one of the UK’s largest timber suppliers – to discuss the benefits of timber as a building material.
With such importance placed on sustainability, when builders pick their timber up from the merchant’s yard it’s crucial they know exactly where it’s come from. What’s the story behind your timber?
Our forests are owned and cared for by 51,000 members of Södra’s co-operatives in southern Sweden, who all receive personal and professional help to manage and develop their forestry in the best possible way. It’s the cold Swedish climate and subsequent slow-growing of the trees that gives our timber its stability and strength. Södra’s spruce, for instance, can grow for up to 80 years before harvesting.
Once we’ve felled the trees we transport them to the sawmill where approximately half of the log becomes sawn timber, while the other half is provided to the paper and wood board industries. Our timber is then machine cut, kiln-dried and graded by closely following clear rules that specify strength, quality and appearance.
The need for quick, sustainable and efficient building is becoming increasingly important. How can timber help facilitate this and what are some of its other key qualities?
As trees grow, they naturally absorb harmful carbon dioxide, locking CO2 into the wood rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. That’s why we only fell our trees once they have fully matured and stopped absorbing CO2 – allowing the environment to fully benefit.
Timber’s embodied energy is incredibly low. This factors in energy expended through building, production and transportation, typically accounting for around 30-50 per cent of a project’s entire carbon footprint.
It takes very little energy to convert trees into timber for construction, while the building process typically requires a fifth of the vehicle deliveries demanded by concrete, for example. These factors give timber the lowest embodied energy rating of any mainstream building material.
Aside from this, its insulating properties make buildings cheaper and greener to heat. It’s lightweight, versatile and easy to handle and install. All of which helps reduce construction time by around a third on average and typically results in less-expensive building. Timber is also remarkably strong and durable, guaranteeing that regardless of speedy construction, there’s no compromise in quality.
And, of course, following all your hard work it’s nice to have the peace of mind that you’ll be left with an attractive end-product. The natural beauty and versatility of wood is hard to replicate, and if you’re working with timber that will be exposed and on show, it can offer a great additional stylish design feature. It’s also really flexible, offering a wide range of aesthetics.
It can vary in colour and texture, can be painted in any colour, waxed and varnished, carved, cut, glued and nailed – or just left as it is. Timber can also be clad in external materials, allowing it to complement specific local regulations and planning requirements.
Once builders have their timber, it’s important it’s looked after so that it doesn’t depreciate. What top tips would you give to builders to ensure they’re properly looking after their timber?
It’s important that whenever possible your timber is protected from the elements, so it should ideally be stored inside a dry building, like a well-ventilated garage or large shed. If this isn’t possible and you need to stack or store supplies outside, try to keep them off the ground, out of direct sunlight and protected from heavy rain and surface water.
If your timber is wrapped when you receive it, it’s best to keep it wrapped until you need it. This will help avoid condensation: wood’s worst enemy. If your timber doesn’t have wrapping, cover wood that’s being kept outside with waterproof sheeting but always make sure there’s enough air circulating to prevent excess moisture building up.
Structural timber should be kept flat whenever possible. Roof battens and floor joists should be stacked on bearers placed on a sold, level floor.
To reduce the risk of warping, the length of the bearers should be equal to the width of the pack. I-joists should also be kept off the ground on heavy-duty level bearers and if kept outside choose firm, well-drained ground to stop any moisture getting into the wood.
And finally, many merchants use racking systems for ease of access to individual boards and a canopy for outdoor rack systems that give good protection, so purchase your timber just in time – as and when you need it.