It was to reduce the risk of urban fires that construction of wooden buildings higher than two floors was forbidden in Sweden in 1874. This ban lasted many years and we had to wait until 1995 for a change in the law. The change came when Sweden joined the EU and building regulations were harmonised and became function-based. Then the timber building industry had to start from scratch and faced two major challenges. The first one was technical – how should a multi-storey wooden building be constructed to meet all requirements for safety, acoustics, vibrations and comfort. Then industrial manufacturing processes must be developed and streamlined in order to be efficient, safe and profitable. Today, more than 20 years later, the industry is heading in the right direction and about ten per cent of apartment buildings in Sweden are now built with a timber frame. The aim is to double this by 2020, which Susanne Rudenstam does not consider impossible.
“Interest in wood construction is considerable. Something of a boom you might say. Above all it is the buyer side with developers and municipalities which is driving this development since they are beginning to see the advantages of choosing wood. Ten per cent of the market might seem small but we should remember that this has been achieved over a ten-year period.”
Environmental aspects drive development for wood
Susanne says that there are three main driving forces behind this increased interest. The current housing shortage is naturally highly significant and even if construction is increasing there is still a major shortage of apartments in many parts of Sweden. Increased housing construction leads in turn to a shortage of building labour in the major cities. Industrial-scale wood construction means that large parts of the building process take place in a factory which is in a different location from the building site itself which has a levelling effect.
But it is environmental aspects that are the main driver of development for wood. The renewable raw material and the resource-efficient processes offered by industrial-scale wood construction provide a number of advantages in the short and long term. Today a full 40% of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions occur in the actual construction process and the built environment. With wood construction this can be reduced by as much as 90%.
“At the same time, the construction industry is very conservative,” Susanne continues. “Choosing wood can be linked to uncertainty since there is insufficient knowledge about the material. People would rather choose the safe path so a lot is related to breaking the force of habit.”
Today some 20 municipalities have developed wood building strategies stipulating that wood should be used in preference to other materials as much as possible. But this is not just about building as much as possible in wood but more about increasing competition and safeguarding better climate benefits.
“If we can retain our market share when construction gains real momentum, we will soon be heading for 20%. Things look bright for Swedish wood construction and I believe a very positive future lies ahead,” Susanne concludes.
Text: Katarina Brandt
Photo: Christian Ljung