Can timber construction benefit health and wellbeing?

Can timber construction benefit health and wellbeing?

The revelation that environmental factors have a huge part to play in our mental and physical health and wellbeing is not a new one.

We know that positive environments can boost productivity and levels of satisfaction, factors including lighting, space, ventilation, thermal comfort and acoustics can all play a part in increasing or decreasing our health and wellbeing. And health-promoting factors are quickly becoming more and more popular to the construction client.

But how can timber construction help to increase health and wellbeing? We explore the different ways timber frame construction can help to promote mental and physical wellness.

En masse, people tend to spend 90% of their time indoors but a large amount of buildings that we live or work in and even buildings that we design, can contribute to issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression and even lung disease.

Choosing the right materials at the initial design stage can ensure the welfare of a building’s occupants.

Timber systems are designed to maximise thermal performance and minimise air leakage, they offer a well-insulated solution without the need for additional technologies. Wood has been proven to lower the sympathetic nervous system within humans, which can contribute to stress, increased blood pressure and inhibit digestion and recovery.

Choosing a timber frame construction method can reduce a project’s carbon emissions and create a light, open environment to promote wellbeing. Timber has also been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity.

According to the Wood for Good campaign workers in offices with wooden interiors have reported increased feelings of innovation, energy and comfort whereas workers in offices without wood felt their environments were impersonal and uncomfortable.

Cognitive abilities are said to be increased by 61% in green or sustainably constructed buildings, this increases to 101% when additional ventilation rates are introduced.

A study led by Holzcluster Steiermark in Austria in 2010, called ‘Schule ohne Stress,’ (School without Stress), compared the behaviour of four different classes, two in classrooms constructed with timber and wooden interior furniture and two that were built with traditional methods.

The study was conducted with 32 school pupils over the course of one school year. It revealed that pupils in the timber classrooms were more relaxed, slept better and experienced a significant drop in heart rates. Comparatively, the students in the standard classroom saw an increase in heart rate over the year.

Stress levels remained the same for the pupils from timber classrooms whereas the stress levels of the other students also saw an increase over the year. There were also less concentration errors made by the timber classroom students.

The study concluded that along with benefits such as speedy construction, sustainability and aesthetics, the long term effects of timber on health and wellbeing were largely positive. From the results of the study, it would suggest that timber can help reduce stress levels and create healthy educational environments.

The use of timber engineering can also promote mental and physical wellbeing in hospitals and care facilities.

Maggie’s Charity provides those diagnosed with cancer and their families with free practical, emotional and social support. They aim to promote wellbeing and bring joy to patients and the design of their centres is a vital part of this.

A spokesperson from the charity commented, “The architecture and design of each Maggie’s centre is vital to the care they offer; they need to be places where people can read themselves differently, as individuals in unusually difficult circumstances and not as patients.”

Maggie’s Oxford, for example, is built entirely from engineered timber which creates a light, modern and enjoyable environment that blends with its surroundings. Another centre, Maggie’s Manchester, is arranged over a single storey with a natural timber structure. The use of glazing and exposed timber allows the centre to be illuminated with natural light.

Cranleigh Medical Centre, near Guildford, was also designed to use engineered timber to create a light and natural environment to promote wellness.

Architect Sohrab Rustomjee said “Our desire was to create an uplifting environment and the exposure of the natural timber superstructure in the communal area has helped soften the feeling internally and eliminate some of the negatives naturally associated with clinical environments.”

Timber construction could prove to be a real benefit to the NHS, as it offers faster construction time, greater accuracy during the build process and is a sustainable material.

It seems that timber construction can help promote health and wellbeing in the education and healthcare sectors and promote the wellbeing and motivation of workers in office environments, it offers a sustainable, fast and low carbon solution to traditional construction methods.

What do you think? Should we be building more with timber to help advance physical and mental health, and is timber a cost effective construction solution? Join the discussion on LinkedIn.

Discover more about the pros and cons of timber frame construction here.

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