CarbonZero Timber Frame and Climate Change

The evidence of Climate Change is upon us, and virtually undeniable. What is climate change and what can you - and the construction industry - do to counteract the situation?

 

Carbon Dioxide

An inevitable product of the way we all live today, Carbon Dioxide is produced primarily through the burning of fossil fuels in: -

  • electricity generation
  • the powering of vehicles, trains and aircraft
  • home heating and cooking (gas, wood, coal, oil)

It is widely accepted amongst a global coalition of meteorologists and associated scientists that the Earth's atmosphere is warming rapidly and that this change has been brought about by the activities of humans.

 

Cllimate Change and Extreme Weather Conditions

BBC: Climate change could lead to more extreme weather conditions

Put simply, gases released into the atmosphere by human activity are forming an insulating barrier around the Earth, preventing the natural release of heat from our atmosphere. There are a number of gases that are held responsible for this process, which is sometimes referred to as 'the greenhouse effect'. While methane and other gases contribute to the problem, the chief culprit, by virtue of the volumes produced, is carbon dioxide.

Current climate models predict that global temperatures could warm from between 1.4 to 5.8°C over the next 100 years. The potential social, environmental and economic costs associated with this are huge.

 

"There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, third assessment report (2001)

 

The evidence

  • Four out of five of the warmest years ever recorded were in the 1990's
  • 1999 was the warmest year on record in the UK
  • The total number of cold days (where the average temperature was under 0C) has fallen from between 15 and 20 per year prior to the twentieth century, to around 10 per year in recent years
  • Sea levels are rising globally, arctic sea ice is thinning and rainfall is becoming heavier in some parts of the World. Average global sea levels have increased by between 0.1 and 0.2 metres over the last 100 years
  • Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined since the late 1960's by around 10%

The Kyoto Protocol, negotiated by more than 160 nations, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting legally binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries. Under Kyoto, the UK's target is to cut its emissions by 12.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. However, the UK government is convinced that the UK can and should go further. The Kyoto Protocol is only the first step. The Government has therefore set a domestic goal to go further than the Kyoto commitment and cut the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

 

While many of us in the UK would probably welcome the most obvious feature of global warming, i.e. warmer weather, it is not that simple. In fact, recent predictions suggest that the weather in the UK could cool to the point where we experience a climate similar to that of Iceland.

Whatever the eventuality, it seems very likely that human activities will have a major impact on the local and global climate in the 21st Century. There are many other serious local and global consequences that are not immediately apparent and far less appealing:

  • More extreme weather, including prolonged dry spells, flooding, severe storms, extreme heat and cold and the consequences that these weather patterns have for agriculture, human habitation and property damage in the UK and abroad.
  • By the second half of the 21st century, Australasia, Central America and sourthern Africa is likely to see decreases in winter precipitation
  • In the tropics, it's thought some land areas will see more rainfall and others will see less
  • It is thought the West Antarctic ice sheet is unlikely to collapse this century. If it does fall apart, sea level rises would be enormous
  • Global average temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1.4C and 5.8C by 2100
  • Maximum and minimum temperatures are expected to rise
  • More hot days over land areas and fewer cold days and frost
  • Hurricanes likely to be more intense in some parts of the World due to more rainfall and more intense winds
  • Increase in desertification
  • Spread of tropical diseases to previously unaffected areas

 

Timber frame health centre, empty shell

 

Timber Frame and Climate Change

Planting trees is an efficient way of sequestrating carbon dioxide, i.e., removing it from the atmosphere and locking it into the timber. Growing trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into carbohydrates through photosynthesis, releasing the oxygen we breathe. This means that as long as the timber is not burned or allowed to biodegrade, the Carbon will be locked-up within the material forever. And, as the younger, faster-growing trees absorb more CO2 than larger trees, well-managed forestry and respectful use of timber encourages new forest growth and further contributes to the slowing of Climate Change.

 

"Climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism
Sir David King, UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor

 

CarbonZero your Timber Frame Structure

By opting for Timber frame construction, not only are you helping new forest growth, but are also minimising the effect that your structure will have on the environment. Wood has the lowest energy consumption and the lowest CO2 emission of any commonly-used building material, and its thermal insulation properties mean timber frame houses use less energy.

In fact, wood. for good, the UK's largest timber promotion campaign ever suggests that a 10% increase in the share of timber houses built annually in Europe would result in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

And no, this is not driving deforestation. As Benfield ATT are FSC-Certified, we can ensure that every tree felled is replaced by at least one other, as well as the forest being managed locally and contributing to local tribal economies. In fact, between 1990 and 2000 the forest area in Europe has grown by 30%, and continues to grow by an area the size of Cyprus every year.

For a very small fee, all Benfield ATT customers can get the amount of Carbon Dioxide released into the atmosphere as a direct result of your timber frame structure project through transport, production, waste materials and energy use calculated. Once this figure is known, it is possible to replant the equivalent number of trees in a co2balance.com-managed forest. There is no simpler, nor more responsible, way of minimising the impact your build project has upon the environment.

 

Further Reading

  • DEFRA - Climate Change
    This site provides information on climate change, what causes it, how the world and the UK could be affected, what is being done to tackle the effects of climate change, and how industry, businesses, and individuals can do their bit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • RTCC - International Climate Change Convention
    Respondingh to Climate Change (RTCC) is a not-for-profit, non-governmental official observer to the UN Climate Change negotiations.
  • Book: 'Climate change risks in building - an introduction'
    The UK is not immune to the consequences of global climatic change, as recent extreme weather conditions have shown. Available from CIRIA bookshop (2005)
  • Co2 Balance - Carbon Calculator, Information and Gift Centre
    Co2Balance offers everyone the opportunity to offset the Carbon emitted through their home, lifestyle - or even build project! By combining their online Carbon Calculator and Carbon Emission Gift Shop, you can neutralise almost any lifestyle and off-set almost any amount of timber. With information about travel grants, renewable energy and the science of carbon emissions, Co2 Balance is definitely worth a visit!
  • wood. for good.
    The UK's largest-ever timber promotional campaign, Wood. for Good. has much useful information on building responsibly with timber and the environmental effects of building with a renewable and sustainable material.
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