Opportunities and constraints for the development of sustainable industrial timber constructions

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Climate change, urbanisation and resource constraints have emphasised the need for a discussion about sustainable urban development. The construction and property sector is a large consumer of natural resources in the urban society and hence, an important stakeholder to incorporate in these discussions.

There is an increasing awareness of the need to address substantial environmental problems through improvement of whole-system understanding. In general the need to focus on wider range of parameters and aspects beyond the cost predictable is emphasized.

To assure that the realized building will be a good technical solution for the occupants, owners and the environment, decisions in the early design stages should be evaluated taking into account the consequences for the performance of the building, the total costs and the environment. The main aspects that affect the building quality performance over its life cycle are: human conditions, financial costs, culture, functionality and ecology. One suggestion on how urban construction could contribute to a sustainable society is through utilisation of low-embodied energy materials and production techniques.

Sustainable buildings suffer from the lack of active market demand and low market acceptance of new technologies, mainly due to higher initial construction costs.

Timber as frame material in an industrial process has the potential to generate sustainable buildings to a lower initial construction cost. It’s also likely to be more energy efficient than the substitutes steel and concrete, both in material processing and in logistics. Additionally, the possibility to industrialise the production of timber framed volumes which gives a unique possibility to minimise waste. Altogether, this should give timber a front line position in the area of sustainable urban development.

Hence, for the market position of sustainable industrialised timber buildings to be enhanced, empiric cost data as well as development towards low energy housing is required.

However, the uptake of timber building techniques, especially combined with environmental considerations is low. The acceptance of sustainable buildings seems to depend not only on environmental and social advantages but also on demonstration of the buildings’ long-term economic benefits.

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