Advancements in timber frame construction could help to store up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year, according to a new study, indicating its significant potential for creating sustainable homes.

All timber construction has the potential to act as carbon sinks, whereby carbon dioxide is captured and absorbed from the atmosphere, so researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany set about investigating its potential impact on homebuilding. They published their findings in the journal Nature Sustainability

The study team examined four scenarios of mass timber construction over the next 30 years. In the first scenario the majority of new buildings were made from concrete and 0.5% wood; in the second scenario this was increased to 10% timber builds; a further increase to 50% timber buildings in the third scenario; and 90% wood in the fourth scenario.

All options would sink carbon, and the higher the percentage of timber construction the greater the benefits. The lowest scenario could lead to 10 million tonnes of stored carbon per year, while the highest scenario could lead to nearly 700 million tonnes stored. 

Timber Frame Construction For Self Builders

Timber frame is an increasingly popular choice for self builders and homeowners extending their homes. A 2017 report showed the number of timber frames self builds, including those with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), is now almost equal to those built with masonry. 

(MORE: Guide to SIPs)

Timber frame structures have become more popular due to faster build time and higher factory standards, and using highly insulated SIPs is a great way to create efficient, sustainable homes that can achieve Passivhaus accreditation.

According to the German researchers, a five-storey residential building made with laminated timber can store up to 180kg of carbon per square meter, which is three times more than natural forest with high carbon density. 

(MORE: Timber Frame Houses: 14 Incredible Designs)

The production of steel and cements in homes will continue to be a major source of greenhouses gases, especially as the population increases, as well as the demand for new housing.

While the process of cutting down trees seems, on the face of it, not very environmentally friendly, the researchers specified that sustainable forest management would be crucial. This could be achieved by greater legal and political commitments to curb illegal logging and to expand manufacturing capabilities.

“There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, co-author and director emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a statement.

“Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilisation calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.”

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