We all know about the devastating effects that change in our climate will cause, from melting ice caps, rising sea levels and more extreme weather. But there is another risk too, and one that could potentially affect all of us in the way we build and look after our homes, and how we try to save the ones at risk.
One of the consequences of climate change that we are already seeing, and bearing witness to its effects, is changes in our weather. Namely, we are experiencing warmer and wetter winters along with warmer and drier summers. Amidst the plethora of changes this will cause, scientists are concerned about an increase in the severity of microbiological attacks of exposed timbers. This means that any type of wood used in construction could be more at risk to decay from mould and wood-rot fungi.
Scientists use something called the Scheffer Climate Index to monitor temperature and rain variables, which can be used to indicate how preferable the conditions are for harmful mould and fungi to take effect. A recent study found that in the UK the value on the Scheffer index is likely to increase due to climate change, meaning that there is a greater risk of timber being attacked by a variety of organisms such as with decay-causing fungi and moulds creating a major source of economic loss, and potentially damaging some of our most valuable and historic buildings.
One of the immediate ways in which we are going to have to address this issue is in the higher maintenance costs. Damaged wood is not only unsightly, but it can result in the structural integrity of a building becoming compromised, so replacing or treating any damaged timbers before they get to that point is crucial.
Moreover, some of our most historic buildings, for which wood was a primary construction material, will require additional maintenance and care to ensure that future generations can enjoy them. Specialist care may be required owing to the age of the timbers, and their susceptibility to being water damaged irreparably.
But it is not just old buildings that need to be taken into account. It is estimated that the average newly-built American new home contains 22 fully grown pine trees worth of timber within them. Across the world, timber is still one of the primary materials used in house construction, which fuels the ever-increasing rates of forest destruction, further harming the climate and raising the Scheffer index. It’s a vicious cycle and one that will take immense amounts of change and oversight to overcome.
One of the immediate things we can do is increase the scrutiny on building designs, making sure they are future proof and take into account using durable and responsibly sourced timber, while also increasing research on effective and appropriate wood protection strategies, including wood treatments or wood modifications.
So, what do you need to look out for in your own home? Some of the telltale signs are:
It is vital to maintain potential problematic areas, especially timber, and this can only be done by knowing what to look out for, testing and inspecting. Specialist microbiologists can be brought in to assess fungal decay of framing timbers and truss. This can be used to prove whether or not there is a health risk posed by the fungi that colonize water damaged timbers in addition to the potential for wood rot decay.
Pham, Lam & Ekambaram, Palaneeswaran & Stewart, Rodney & Sahin, Oz & Bertone, Edoardo & de Faria Correa Thompson Flores, Juliana & Franklin de Oliveira, Guilherme. (2018). Resilient Buildings: Informing Maintenance for Long-term Sustainability. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333866440_Resilient_Buildings_Informing_Maintenance_for_Long-term_Sustainability
Curling, S.F., Ormondroyd, G.A. Observed and projected changes in the climate based decay hazard of timber in the United Kingdom. Sci Rep 10, 16287 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73239-1
Impact and Assessment of Moisture-affected, T. (2020). Impact and Assessment of Moisture-affected, Timber Construction | WoodSolutions. Retrieved 17 October 2020, from https://www.woodsolutions.com.au/articles/impact-and-assessment-moisture-affected-timber-construction
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Time running out for construction sector to cut energy use, meet climate goals – UN. (2020). Retrieved 17 October 2020, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/12/639212-time-running-out-construction-sector-cut-energy-use-meet-climate-goals-un
Manual 4 – Decay above- ground; Technical Manuals For Timber Service Life Design Guide. (2020). Retrieved 17 October 2020, from https://www.fwpa.com.au/images/marketaccess/ManualNo4-AG%20decay.pdf
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