Battle of the sustainable building products – Wood vs Brick

Battle of the sustainable building products – Wood vs Brick

ROUND ONE – the origins

Starting with brick, let’s take a look at the materials that go into it: clay and water. That’s it. No complex chemicals, no exotic compounds. At the end of its life, a brick is effectively just a manufactured clay stone with a special shape. It breaks down into earth since that’s where it came from. Wood on the other hand grows abundantly all almost everywhere on the globe, and is strong and versatile by its very nature. Wood can be treated to be even more durable, as Metsä Wood does by exposing it to heat of over 200 degrees. If harvested sustainable sources, both materials are eco-friendly.

ROUND TWO – durability

Since the primary ingredient in brick is clay which is fired to over 1000 °C, it is a non-combustible material. As such, it is an excellent cladding choice to resist or confine fires. Brick is such a strong and durable building material that your insurance companies may even offer you a discount on your home insurance costs. Brick is also highly energy-efficient. It’s a building material that has exceptional "thermal mass” properties. Thermal mass is the ability of a heavy, dense material to store heat and then slowly release it. This means that during the summer months a brick building stays cool even during the hottest part of the day. Wood, on the other hand, does not practically expand against heat. On the contrary, by the effect of heat, it dries out and gains strength. Specific heat of wood is high. That means high amount of energy is needed to increase and decrease the temperature of one-kilogram of wood. Wood requires almost twice amount of heat energy than stones and concrete; similarly, three times of energy is needed for heating or cooling steel. In view of this, both products can stand the test of time, even if disaster strikes!

ROUND THREE – carbon footprint

When it comes to constructing homes and buildings, wood has one of the lowest energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of any commonly used building material. Replacing one cubic metre of concrete or red brick with the same volume of timber can save around one tonne of carbon dioxide. However, more than 80% of brick kilns are fired with natural gas and numerous plants use fuels of bio-based materials from other industrial applications and waste products. Energy sources include methane gas from landfills and sawdust from furniture manufacturers. With clay brick’s renowned longevity, no additional energy will be needed to make a replacement brick for many decades – if not centuries. Either way you look at it; both materials leave a very small carbon footprint.

ROUND FOUR – aesthetics

Let’s face it, we don’t just look at how well our new building performs, we also need it to be pleasing to our eyes. Brick, apart from being of appealing appearance, offers lasting value. It doesn't rot, dent, or need to be painted, and it will never tear or be eaten by termites. Its modular units and variety of shapes have resulted in beautiful structures in just about every architectural style, ranging from colonial to Victorian to post-modernist. Wood can also be beautifully decorative when considered as an aesthetic material. Each tree has its own colour and design by its very nature and the design of the material can change according to the way it is cut. It’s possible to find different wooden materials according to colour and design preference, and it can be painted to darker colours of varnished, and can be given bright or mat touches. Both materials are, then, not only durable and sustainable, but also beautiful.

And the winner? What do you think?

Useful links:

Metsä Wood uses an innovative method in strengthening their ThermoWood® timber products to be even more durable and sustainable
Cembrit Metro cladding has been installed on a mixed use development in the heart of Camden, London to provide a decorative finish to complement the surrounding brickwork

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