Making the Most of Wood and Healthy Buildings

The impact our built environment can have on occupants is significant given we spend 90% of our time in buildings. Whether it is patient recovery, student performance, productivity in offices or our own comfort at home, all are influenced by the indoor environment and the design, products and systems used to create and furnish our buildings. As was clear from the recent TTJ Magazines ‘Wood & Wellness’ conference ( February 2019), wood and wood based engineered products can make an extremely positive contribution to the healthy buildings agenda.

Our buildings contain a wide range of chemicals with differing purposes – some natural, some synthetic. Of course, some of these can be substituted but many perform a vital function in optimising the performance of key building elements. For example, the well targeted use of preservative treated wood products (all of which are approved by the HSE as safe for use as directed) allows specifiers to realise the full potential of wood in higher hazard situations and helps provide the long-term performance that is often taken for granted in good design.

However, without credible evidence to support their specification, preservative pre-treated products would be vulnerable to subjective opinion concerning their potential impact on indoor air quality, so in late 2017 WPA commissioned BRE to carry out a study of all the available scientific evidence relating to preservative pre-treated wood used in construction. The report conclusion that ‘…preservative pre-treated wood poses no threat to indoor air quality’ is very positive and provides specifiers and designers with the confidence to continue to use preservative pre-treated materials as a vital part of healthy building design. Copies of the BRE project summary are available to download from the WPA website publications section.

The work of the Wood Protection Association encompasses flame retardant enhanced wood products and modified wood systems as well as preservatives. All of these play an important part in helping to make the most of wood. In that context, it was good to see the creative use of modified wood technologies as an integral part of some of the case studies at the TTJ conference – from the thermally modified cladding protecting the beautiful Maggie’s centre in Oldham, presented by Alex de Rijke, Director, dRMM Architects, to the inspiring projects utilising Accoya acetylated wood described by John Alexander of WPA member Accsys Group. Technical support and specifier guidance on the correct and appropriate use of modified wood products is available from the WPA. 

To conclude, healthy buildings also need to be effective buildings. It is undeniably right that we assess the impacts our built environment can have on us all and ensure that we specify and use materials in a way that optimises those impacts. However, in doing so we must ensure that we do not undermine the performance levels we often take for granted. A healthy building can never be a chemical free building. The well informed, selective use of chemicals which enhance the performance of wood will ensure that healthy timber buildings continue to be long lasting buildings.

Gordon Ewbank

CEO, Wood Protection Association

Posted at 10:06 am on February 28th, 2019

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