Ten truths about wooden houses

The only downside to a wooden house –it sounds too good to be true. Some time ago we made up our minds. Folkhem will only build houses made of wood. The decision was easy. Wood is simply the best building material there is. This includes everything from construction time to acoustics. And best of all is that wooden houses are outstanding from an environmental point of view, both in the short and long term.

During house construction more carbon dioxide is released in the production phase than in all the years that the house is used. Yet, regulatory and environmental discussions focus almost exclusively on use.

Recently, Folkhem built Sweden’s highest-ever wooden house in the city of Sundbyberg, eight floors. We receive study visits there almost every day. People come from all over the world to see and listen to our experiences. They include engineers, politicians, condo buyers, researchers, school groups, architects, and all sorts of curious people.

Before they return home they almost all ask the same question: why are not more houses built of pure wood? Why are all these houses made of concrete and mixed materials? We don’t know. The only drawback with wooden houses is that the benefits sound too good to be true. (Example: With current growth rates in Swedish forests, it only takes one minute to cultivate an eight-story building.)

Can it really be so fantastically good? We have come up with ten facts to begin with. Read these with a critical eye. Find out more for yourself. Create your own view. But promise us not to dismiss an argument just because it "sounds too good to be true". How can building a house, for example, provide a carbon footprint that is less than zero? Minus a thousand tons only in the production phase?!

Yes, we told you so. It sounds unlikely. But it is true.

1. Total carbon emissions for a large wooden house: minus 1600 tons.

One of the hardest things to explain, but really it’s very simple.Forests are produced by rain, sun and carbon dioxide. All treestherefore need carbon dioxide to grow. Trees are said to "bindcarbon dioxide."Once the wood is broken down, carbon dioxide is releasedagain, and can be bound by the new, growing trees. Again andagain and again, in an endless natural cycle.Folkhem’s eight-story wooden house in Sundbyberg binds1600 tons of carbon dioxide.The actual production (transportation, machinery and soon) of course causes emissions. The construction of the house inSundbyberg caused emissions of 600 tons of carbon dioxide.The total is still less than zero: 600 tons of emissions offset by1600 tons of "binding".Total carbon emissions: minus 1000 tons. For each house.(For comparison: a house of the same size built of concrete- a non-renewable material - causes emissions of a total of 1200tons of carbon dioxide. Thus 2200 tons more than the woodenhouse.)Strandparken has saved 2000 tons of carbon dioxide forthe City of Sundbyberg.

2. A large wooden house can be built in half the time compared to a concrete structure.

Folkhem has experience in producing houses in different materials.Therefore, we can easily compare and see that wooden houses arequick to build. Building a wooden house is twice as fast, comparedwith a concrete building. Or, conversely put: it would be possible tobuild twice as many homes in the same time frame.

3. Wooden houses are silent.

Many visitors to our houses become fascinated by the sound.It sounds softer on the inside. The difference is even greater duringthe actual construction. Concrete construction is noisy wheneveryou have to make a hole or an opening somewhere. And buildersneed to do that all the time, it’s part of the construction method.Wood is soft and it does not sound nearly as loud when thecarpenters saw and drive nails.

4. Wooden houses have less environmental impact.

Wood is a light material. A large wooden house weighs about athird of a concrete building. This means that the substrate does notneed to be as firm. Groundwork is much less demanding. Deckingroads and railway lines is much easier with light wooden housesas opposed to heavy concrete buildings.

5. Wooden houses do not get sick.

Wood is a natural material. It contains no additives or toxicsubstances. When we begin to build, the wood is dry, and withour building method, rain and moisture will not get in while thehouse is being built.Cast concrete buildings use cement and water. Curing andevaporation will continue for many years after people moveinto the apartments. It is not uncommon for the moisture to effectboth the people and the house adversely.Wooden houses make us feel well.

6. Wood is easy to transport.

That said: wood weighs only a third of concrete. Ourwood comes from Swedish forests and is easy to moveto where the house will be built. Transportation may beby train, boat or truck.

7. It takes one minute to cultivate a wooden house.

Sweden is a forested country. Since there are such large plantationswe have a tremendous asset in wood as a building material.And even if it takes a long time for a seedling to become a greattree, the overall growth is super-fast. An eight-story building such asour Sundbyberg project only takes a minute to cultivate!

8. Wooden houses are built of entirely renewable materials.

Unlike concrete, wood is a renewable resource. It is a naturalmaterial that when handled the right way is entirely renewableand is part of the natural cycle.

9. Wooden houses are sustainable.

Today, many believe that wooden houses require a lot of maintenanceand cannot stand for long. But the wooden houses thatwere built hundreds of years ago still stand today - everythingfrom old barns to residential buildings in inner cities. Wood issimply a very durable material. And our construction technologymakes it even better than before.Maintenance is not a problem either. Our house in Sundbyberg,for example, has a facade clad with cedar shavings.This will last about 100 years. If they need to be replaced, it iseasier than re-plastering a concrete building, which normallyneeds to be done every thirty years.

10. Wooden houses are fire proof.

Our solid wood houses are even more fire resistant thanhouses made of steel and concrete. If a building catches fire, it is not the structure itself thatcatches fire first, it is, for example, the technical equipment,furniture or other fittings. When solid wood is exposed to hightemperatures it does not burn but is charred just on the surface.The construction stays intact.Conventionally built houses have a big disadvantage here:The steel reinforcement is broken down by heat. The dangerof collapse make fighting fires in such houses unnecessarilydifficult and risky.