Take a look at what happens when a massive storm hits a secular forest. Now imagine an earthquake. Now a tornado. Maybe even a tsunami. All these are Acts of God that we all fear but have to face more and more with every passing year due to lack of action towards climate change or simply denial of the impacts our amazing modern lifestyle has on the environment.
Anyone who denies climate change and does not intend to consider environmental planning should look around the world and see how the weather changed over the last decade. From extreme heat waves in Russia’s Siberia, Western Canada, the Scandinavian peninsula to the extremely low temperatures in Southern Europe’s Spain, Italy, Portugal, France. Google the tornados in Eastern Europe, an area that is not close to hurricane-level winds that we got used to in the Gulf of Mexico. Take a look at the desertification process that crossed the Mediterranean Sea and came in parts across Southern Europe. If Europe doesn’t interest you, look at Asia’s prolonging monsoon season, China’s heatwaves, or flooding. If you don’t really care for Asia either, look at New York’s increasing flood risks, Florida’s record-breaking hurricane seasons (seriously …. We’re running out of names for these storms), California burning down every year, other western states following suit, and Canada as well. Also, flood risks don’t only affectEurope’s Netherlands (a country that is well below the sea level), or Italy’s Venice (that’s also below sea level), but also several cities spread across Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and New York City. The good part is that the Netherlands and Italy have built dams that keep rising sea levels at bay, not affecting their population. The bad part is that the same systems can not be applied to Florida’s western coast because that would mean closing in the entire Gulf of Mexico.
When it comes to the durability of wood as a building material, in the face of Acts of God that affect any type of structure, it’s logical that we start wondering whether wooden skyscrapers stand a chance. Wood as a building material has superb durability properties when it comes to humidity resistance as well as how well it reacts to the chemicals with which it is treated. Unlike other building materials like steel and concrete, wood is much more resistant to corrosive salts, industrial stack gases, dilute acids, and sea air. These properties make it the ideal material for cooling towers and chemical storage facilities. Looking at the types of natural disasters that wreak havoc to buildings made out of materials that are considered the most durable and resilient, how does wood fit the picture?
Well … while wood does burn, the way mass timber (the wooden element used in woodskyscrapers) is designed makes it fire resistant. The reason behind this resistance is the fact that wood turns charcoal when burnt. This affects the part of mass timber that is directly exposed to fire. Once turned into charcoal, that piece of wood stops burning and works as a shield to the other parts of mass timber, not allowing the fire to affect it.
When an earthquake occurs, tall buildings tend to collapse unless built in intricate ways that absorb shock and balance the earth’s movements throughout the structure. This is necessary, and you can look at Japan to understand just how complex these systems are. However, when we look at wood, the material itself has one property that fixes the issue. Its flexibility. Wood is an incredibly flexible material that bends, sways, but returns to its original position once the stress is lifted. Certain types of forests stand tall even when faced with tremendous wind speeds. Trees can face intense wind forces and not fall. Because of this concern, multiple earthquake tests have been done on mass timber structures to see how they resist. Concrete buildings crack under the sway of massive earthquakes. Wood sways, moves, jiggles but does not crack as quickly because of this flexibility.
When wood is designed appropriately and treated, many wood products and species of trees have a high resistance to humidity. This makes wood an ideal material for areas with a higher humidity level or is exposed to more humidity or moisture like aquatic facilities. Wood, as a material, is hygroscopic. This means that it constantly exchanges and transfers moisture and humidity with the surrounding air. This allows it to control humidity levels and balance indoor moisture. It alsoresists warping or shrinkage due to moisture. Just think of the fact that wood has always been used for floating devices, like boats, even before we invented chemical treatments.
When it comes to decay and exposure to damage from insects, several types of wood resist impact. They have a naturally occurring chemical secreted by the wood itself, called extractives. These are deposited in the heartwood of different species of trees. They protect the wood itself and ensure long-lasting performance. This is why wood can resist being exposed to water. If the type of wood used does not have this chemical at high enough levels to protect it from insects, we can provide treatments to increase the durability of the material.