Sustainable Timber for Eco-Friendly Building
Sustainable timber is big right now and so it should be, as we want the forests of the world to be there for future generations to enjoy. Go back a few years and if you wanted to make sure the timber in your doors, gates or whatever was sustainable, you'd be hard-pressed to find any useful information on the subject.
The basics behind sustainably harvesting trees is pretty simple: every time a tree is cut down and harvested for its timber, a new tree is planted; but obviously on a major scale. The way this is achieved is through whole areas of forests being felled in rotation; as one area is cleared, it is re-planted and then several years later, a new area is felled within the same forest.
I use high quality timber to make bespoke wooden garage doors. My customers are concerned about the environment and so am I, which is why I looked into eco-friendly, sustainable timber. Below is what I've found.
Hardwoods vs Softwoods for Sustainability
Hardwoods, when used for things like joinery, last longer, especially outdoors as they are more durable. Like everything, there are some exceptions to this rule. It's worth bearing in mind that most Hardwoods also take a lot longer to reach maturity than Softwoods.
For example, an Oak can take up to 60 years for it to reach a size suitable for felling. The thing to remember here is, it's not the height of the tree so much that counts but the width of the tree; hence Hardwoods are usually more expensive, say than the Softwood Scandinavian Redwood (which can be felled after 25 or so years).
Looking at it all this way, then Softwood (because it's quicker to replenish) must be more sustainable timber than Hardwood, right? Well, not necessarily, as the Softwood in question may only last in its use for ten or so years, whilst the Oak could be 30 years or more. It's a tricky puzzle to solve completely, as looking after whatever wooden products you have means they'll last longer as well.
Could we make Hardwoods grow quicker, or could we somehow make Softwoods last longer? Well, believe it not, one of those ideas can actually be achieved -Softwood can last longer!
Sustainable, Fast-Growing Softwood that Outlasts Hardwood
It's here and is Radiata Pine but with a slight twist. In its natural harvested form, Radiata Pine isn't very useful or durable; the durability meaning it won't last very long if used in external situations. However, when treated with non-toxic Acetic acid, this non-durable timber is suddenly much improved!
Now, acetic acid may sound dangerous, but it is classed as a very weak acid. Any products treated with acetic acid won't harm your skin. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar (which is immediately obvious when working with Accoya wood) and is found in Wood Glue so you've more than likely come into contact with it before. One of the key aspects of Accoya is its durability, which means that there's no chance of increased toxicity from the acetic acid treatment over time.
Before you start ordering a batch of Radiata Pine and a wagonload of Acetic acid to test this out for yourself (!) pay a visit to Accoya as they are the brains behind the product.
Timber is classified in several classes for its durability: Class 1 being the best and the class where Accoya can be found. However, its presence in Class 1 is only because they couldn't invent a new class for it. Accoya outperforms every other timber in Class 1, which are all tropical Hardwoods and known for their long durability and their even longer growing time.
Keeping Timber Sustainable
Timbers like Lignum Vitae, predominately used in things like pier and bridge construction where they will be submerged in water, are now listed on the ICUN Red List of endangered species with the following:
"Population: Where it still occurs, populations are now severely reduced. Regeneration is good but growth is slow."
People are making an effort and trying to re-grow the timber but as it takes so long to grow, the felling has outpaced the replanting. This is exactly where Accoya can make a difference.
In tests in Europe, acetic acid treated Radiata Pine (aka Accoya) has been used underwater with no further treatment, to line the sides of canals during the cycle of maintenance; what's more, after ten years in the water, the Accoya showed no sign of fungal decay (rot) whatsoever. Amazing!
If you care about the environment and want long lasting sustainable timber products, Accoya ticks both boxes.
Jon Culshaw is a sustainable timber advocate and joiner specialising in bespoke wooden gates and garage doors at www.woodworkersuk.co.uk. He loves the smell of sawdust in the morning!