Timber is one of the oldest, and most popular, building materials in existence.  It’s easy to see why – timber is aesthetically pleasing, durable and naturally sourced.  But this doesn’t mean it is faultless.

In fact, modern timber production has come under increasing scrutiny as our knowledge of environmental impact, long-term structural integrity and alternative materials has developed.

Many people naturally assume that timber is an environmentally sound choice.  After all, it occurs naturally and requires minimal processing beyond cutting and shaping the raw materials, and potentially applying a finish, such as varnish. 

However, poorly planned harvesting of timber has been a significant contributor to forest degradation and other environmental consequences.  The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “poorly planned and implemented extraction of timber and non-timber products, logging and transport roads, construction of facilities for logging camps … and waste accumulation cause direct and indirect negative impacts on forest plant and animal resources, and on ecological functions of forests such as the conservation of biological diversity and carbon and water cycles.”

While most timber traders, especially in Australia, obtain wood from specifically designed plantations that seek to minimise these negative effects, this in itself creates an uneasy situation.  While we currently utilise the timber of thousands of tree species globally, we are increasingly choosing to populate timber plantations with a select few species that are best suited to becoming timber products, such as the radiate pine and the Douglas-fir.

While it makes commercial sense to invest in those species which are proven to make the best timber, by restricting the bulk of our supplies to a few key species, we run the risk of a supply crisis should a significant threat arise targeting and of these species, such as rot or disease.

Beyond the environmental issues, timber is also particularly vulnerable to the elements.  With over 85% of Australians living within 50km of the coast, the impact of sea air and salt should be taken into consideration when specifying materials.

Sea salt, coupled with high temperatures and moisture can cause defibration of timber, whereby the natural glue that holds wood fibres together, breaks down to give the timber a furry or woolly appearance.

Timber is also vulnerable to rot and mould and as such is subject to variations in environment.  For instance, alterations of water flow (such as diverted runoff) that pool around timber structures will weaken them and inevitably cause them to deteriorate if not addressed.

Termites are also a significant problem, despite assumptions among modern dwellers that termites are quite rare, especially in urban areas.  In fact, termites cause more damage to homes in Australia than fire, floods, storms and tempest combined, with the estimated cost in 2004 surpassing $780 million per year, and new estimates placing it above $1 billion per year.  It is estimated that, on average, one in every three properties will have active termites.

The limitations of timber and concerns around its impact on the environment have led to a number of alternative materials being developed.  But not all timber alternatives are created equal….

To learn more about timber, it’s limitations and alternative materials, click here to download the free whitepaper >>>