Wood used to be the timber of choice for New Zealand’s homes. But in recent years there has been something of a move away from wood for the residential market as a result of greater choices of alternative materials and changing fashions.
But it’s not only the timber industry that is keen for the pendulum to swing back in wood’s favour.
With heightened concern about protecting the environment, wood is generally regarded as one of the most sustainable raw materials for construction.
In surveys recently undertaken on behalf of NZ Wood, 80% of people acknowledged wood’s qualities of sustainability and renewability, and 50% said they would consider using wood in the future because of these properties.
Because trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, use of wood has real benefits for the environment. The more wood that is used, the more trees that are planted, leading to even greater absorption of CO2.
The NZ Wood programme was established by the timber industry to help encourage greater use of wood — often in non-traditional areas of construction.
As part of this, a “resources” web site is being designed as a one-stop shop where building industry professionals — particularly engineers and architects — can access the latest information about suppliers, new products and technical information about the use of timber.
Aimed at specifiers
Programme manager Geoff Henley says the site will be aimed at specifiers — any professionals advising clients and customers on building projects, including builders, quantity surveyors, architectural draughtspeople and serious DIYers.
“At present there is quite a bit of material available, but in many different places and of varying degrees of quality and reliability,” Mr Henley says.
“The one-stop shop site will make the use of wood easier, more straightforward and therefore more attractive.”
Architect Harriet Compton Richards needs no convincing about the qualities of timber. She loves working with wood.
“People have a certain affinity with wood,” she says. “It means warmth to them — it has a cosiness about it. Nobody goes up and feels aluminium, but people want to touch wood.”
She is particularly enthusiastic about the ability to design truly cutting edge, environmentally-friendly houses out of wood, appropriate for all segments of the residential market.
“Wood is such a flexible material — it has the ability to contemporise itself.”
But it’s not only the traditional residential market where she sees potential for modern timber design. She is also working with Andy Buchanan from Canterbury University on designing and building a multi-level timber building.
Eco-hotel based on timber
She mentions the possibility of an eco-hotel, where the entire construction is based on timber.
NZ Wood is keen to encourage greater use of wood in low-rise commercial buildings. To this end, Mr Henley says, the site will provide a vehicle for taking new advances and innovation out to the marketplace, particularly for those less traditional applications of timber.
But it will also apply a level of quality control to the information so that the industry can rely on it as an authoritative source.
“All the content will be generated and reviewed by recognised professionals with expertise in their fields.”
It will contain information on wood’s structural properties, durability, sustainability and fire resistance, along with its thermal and acoustic properties.
As an example, Mr Henley mentions wooden window frames, which he says have fallen out of favour in comparison to aluminium in recent times. But wood is now coming back into consideration due to its superior insulative properties.
“With modern treatment and design, many of the problems with deterioration can be overcome.”
Ms Compton Richards passionately believes there is scope for New Zealand to become leaders in contemporary timber construction. She and her partners are working on a few radical innovations of their own for the use of wood by the construction industry.
Factory prefabricated approach for timber
She wants to revolutionise the way wooden residential buildings are constructed in New Zealand — adopting the factory prefabricated approach common for high-end residential construction in Europe.
Complete panels of houses are produced in a controlled factory environment complete with services and most fixtures and fittings, and then assembled on site, often in less than a week, with great advantages of time and quality.
As one of the construction industry’s innovators, she believes having a forum such as the NZ Wood web site for discussion among professionals and a credible source of advice and information will be a boon for the industry, and for the greater use of wood.
“Hopefully it will become a place where people can have conversations and share ideas because I think collaboration is going to be the way forward.
“It’s a really good idea to get more of a discourse going. Other industries such as steel have a body, and it’s obvious where to go to for information, and I think that’s what’s needed for timber.”
• The resources web site is currently being developed and will be launched in September this year.