Thomas Raunsbæk

The timber industry can and must accelerate if we want to take on the climate challenges

Timber construction is not a new invention. But developments in the use of wood in construction can and must accelerate if we are to be at the forefront of the construction industry in any way and not end up like the industry that slept through the hour and left the climate in the lurch.

Our neighboring countries to the north are often highlighted for having a long and proud tradition of building houses and other buildings out of wood. And Denmark can and must have that reputation as well. We simply have to stop seeing wood and wood construction as something new and untested.

The tradition of building in wood is perhaps most visible in the Swedish forests and on the Norwegian mountains, where the log cabins stand side by side, but wooden construction has actually not just been dumped in our own Danish backyard here in recent years.

Although it is a little harder to spot, we Danes also have many years of experience in building with wood – if you look past the bricks and look at the seams of the buildings. Here you will find rafters, beams, wall frames, deck modules, glulam and wooden floors. And in recent years also more modern wooden solutions such as insulation with wood fibers and paper wool. This means that we are not talking about new, untested solutions, but rather good, solid wooden solutions with many annual rings.

Valuable Danish knowledge and strong collaboration
In Denmark, we therefore have a rich, but overlooked, tradition of building interior structures in wood. Overlooked because when we talk about wooden construction in professional environments and the media, we almost always focus on images of prestigious projects with beautiful wooden facades. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with beautiful wooden facades – we will have many more wooden facades in the future – but unfortunately the many pictures have the disadvantage that they often steal the focus from the wooden structures behind them.

It’s a shame, because we have a lot to gain by learning from our own experiences with interior timber construction. We must build on the Danish tradition instead of thinking that we always have to invent everything from scratch or obtain knowledge from abroad. We have a solid wooden building foundation. We just have to dare to look behind the facade and get to the heart of the building.

A treasure trove of precious knowledge is hidden here. Knowledge that we need when we have to build sustainably. Because we must base the green conversion of construction on knowledge and facts rather than emotions – if we are to really take up the climate challenge. Here, I am personally particularly positive about the new requirements for LCA in the building regulations and measures such as EPD environmental product declarations that meet the European standard, sensible knowledge-based steps on the way. And if you add the knowledge of manufacturers and suppliers to the more technical data, we get even further. Several steps in the right direction, but we can do even better and become even more ambitious on behalf of construction.

It simply requires that all actors work together and exchange knowledge. That the manufacturers learn from the engineers – and vice versa, that the engineers learn from the manufacturers. And not least that the companies learn from each other and collaborate. For example, by joining together in associations, clusters and groups that do not play with closed cards and keep their valuable knowledge about wood close to their bodies, but share it for the benefit of the rest of the construction industry, society and ultimately our global climate.

Timber construction is a renewable resource
We can and must become better at using wood in construction and at sparring with each other. There are a lot of reasons to convert a lot of construction to wood and wood-based products: lower CO2 emissions, high quality, strong durability, faster construction speed and a particularly good indoor climate – to name just a few. Everything points in the direction of wood as the solution to the biggest challenge of our time. The overriding climate crisis.

We are not making sufficient use of our resources if we focus exclusively on the external cladding and quick, easily accessible messages about the sustainable properties of wood. We’re going to get behind the cladding and dive into all the geeky interior details. We need more closeups of the wooden rafters up in the roof structure, the glulam beams in the ceiling and the paper wool inside the wooden skeleton of the wall. So both the private consumer, the public builders and the politicians become aware that wood can do much more than being a beautiful facade or a quick fix.

As I said at the beginning, wooden construction is not new – but it is constantly renewing itself. From several hundred-year-old rafters and beams in the old farmhouses to the latest technology in insulation with wood fibers and paper in the high-rise buildings of the future. Just as wood is a renewable resource that constantly grows and gets new branches and twigs, building with wood does the same. But for it to be sustainable, it should be built on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience – external as well as internal.

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