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Timber is a sustainable building material

Seedlings being nurtured for a plantation forest on the Sunshine Coast
Seedlings being nurtured for a plantation forest on the Sunshine Coast

Most of the energy used in the production of building materials is derived from fossil fuels, and embodied energy is a significant indicator of a materials impact on the carbon cycle. As timber and other forest products is largely made from atmospheric carbon, they do not have the same relationship between embodied energy and the carbon cycle as other building materials. The capacity of a tree or forest to absorb carbon declines with age, as growth slows and the decay of organic material increases releasing CO2. Therefore, continuing to plant plantation forests not only provide us with a versatile and sustainable building material but also assists the planet in reducing Carbon Dioxide. Whilst most of the plantation forests are pine, there are also some growing Australian hardwoods. Some hardwoods are sourced from managed natural forests and selectively cleared to maintain a healthy forest. A little known fact about using Australian hardwoods that are endemic to the region or area you are building will provide far better performance, long-term savings (even some species offering natural termite resistance) and durability compared to importing apparently cheaper hardwood from overseas.

Comparisons of fossil fuel required to produce 4 common building materials;

Material Fossil fuel energy MJ/kg Fossil fuel energy MJ/m3
Rough sawn timber 1.5 750
Steel 35.0 266,000
Concrete 2.0 4800
Aluminium 435 1,100,000

Timber is one product that has many favourable attributes, easily promoted as environmentally friendly, especially when sourced from plantation forests, few building products have processes as simple and low impact as timber products. As sawmills are positioned near their log supply, there are minimal transport costs. The logs harvested in the forest weigh about 1 tonne/m3, by the time they have been processed into timber products they are much lighter, somewhere between 400 - 800 kg/m3. This reduces costs of transport to the various suppliers and eventual building sites.

The logs can be milled and cut into various sizes for use in wall framing and roof trusses etc. these framing timber can be treated with a blue dyed chemical treatment which repels termites, or a green CCA treatment which in addition to repelling termites, this treatment also helps prevent rotting or at least slows it down if positioned below ground level. To minimise waste, shorter lengths can be utilised by gluing laminating timber or known as 'glulam', using these smaller lengths, known as laminates and gluing them together and staggering the joins, to produce larger sizes and longer lengths. The individual laminates are finger jointed to provide additional strength, into continuous lengths assembled and glued and called LGL's and laminated beams and are used in Both residential and commercial applications. These laminated beams can be designed to achieve incredible spans that almost compare to steel beams but far more attractive when ordered as an exposed finish beam, and may also be designed as curved beams or portal frames.

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Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast.

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