Climate and Housing

It is interesting to note that a January 2020 report by the Governments climate advisors (the committee on climate change), has called for a dramatic re-foresting of UK land.  The committee has advised that around 74,000 hectares of trees every year require planting (around 90 – 120 million trees) and to increase the amount of UK land used by broadleaf and conifer forestry from around 13% to 17%. 

There are lots of contentious suggestions about reduction to meet consumption.  Tax on flights and the like, but one of the committees’ suggestions that caught my eye is that the wood harvested from these trees could be used in construction.  I’ve heard on a number of occasions that the UK should use more wood in housing but there are reasons that communities build using the materials they do.  Amongst these are availability of materials and climate.  In many parts of the UK we have readily available clay for bricks, or stone that is easily shaped and materials for blocks, and those make the long lasting housing. In our colder cities, wooden houses also create increased fire risk, a factor that notably caused more properties to be built of brick or stone following or example the great fire of London, which acted as a trend setter for many years into the future.  Another fact that is often over looked is that traditionally we have relatively damp climate, compared to countries with more wooden housing such as Scandinavia or North America where in many places winters are (or were) a lot colder and drier.  Wood is a great insulator but in damp climates it suffers more from the weather and condensation, reducing the lifespan of properties unless good moisture barriers are used, as in the case in more modern wood framed houses.  Many of these are surrounded by brick or stone.

Having said this pre-fabricated timer framed houses (rather than all timber) are a lot faster to construct than brick/block houses, particularly of bespoke design or with more ‘features’ and this has encouraged more of this type of housing in the UK.  However we have only been building this type of housing for 40 years or so – we have a long wait to prove durability.  All wood with wattle and daub “traditional” housing dates back to Tudor times and beyond so we know that with care and maintenance this can last.