Since 2005 every year, on the last Friday of September, the European Researchers' Night (Bright Night) takes place. It is an event organised by the European Commission to spread scientific culture and highlight the social impact of the research. The European Researchers’ Night is aimed at the general public, attracting and engaging people regardless of their scientific background, with a special focus on families, schoolchildren, and students. It is an opportunity to approach the fascinating world of science and to get in touch with people who have made scientific research their daily mission.
On the site of Piazza del Campo, in the historical centre of Siena, the Ecodynamics research group of the University of Siena, led by Professor Simone Bastianoni, presented the Build-in-Wood Project, and the results of the sustainability assessment of the solution proposed and developed by the project. They also distributed a short questionnaire of 10 questions to the citizens, to understand the social perception of timber multistorey buildings and possible prejudices for their development in the European contest. After collecting each respondent’s answers, the researchers presented a video answering each question, intending to dispel some of the most common objections to timber construction and affirm the advantages of using this natural material in construction.
In particular, looking at the responses obtained, it emerged the fear of citizens regarding the use of wood in construction, given its perceived lack of availability among the respondents. Indeed, more than half of respondents (63%) think that there is not enough wood in Europe’s forests to build multi-story timber buildings and 71% think that the timber industry contributes to deforestation. In addition to this, 58% of respondents believe that using wood in construction reduces the possibility of maintaining current uses. Thanks to sustainable forest management and active reforestation, the forest area in Europe has increased over the last 30 years, while deforestation continues in tropical areas. Tropical deforestation is the result of the conversion of land for agriculture, livestock, infrastructure, and especially mining. It is therefore not caused by the timber industry. Moreover, Europe already has enough wood to manufacture 10% of the buildings needed by 2030. Wood is part of a circular supply chain and can be reused on a large scale, maintaining its quality and structural integrity.
The survey also found that 83% of respondents believe that timber construction has lower greenhouse gas emissions with respect to traditional materials and 67% of respondents believe that timber buildings can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In this context, traditional building materials account for around a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. Those made of wood emit about 40% less CO2, not taking into account the carbon stock. In addition, trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in wood. When wood is used in construction, it continues to store carbon, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
On the other hand, when it comes to construction, 75% of respondents believe that a timber building doesn’t take longer to build than an equivalent conventional concrete building, and 83% say that timber buildings are stable. When it comes to energy consumption, 79% of respondents agree that timber buildings do not consume more energy than conventional buildings. However, 75% of respondents believe that timber buildings have low fire resistance. Finally, 88% of respondents believe that living in a timber building is comfortable. In this respect, prefabrication of building elements and rapid assembly on site drastically reduce construction time. The safety of the building is linked to the quality of the construction, the use of appropriate technical solutions, and the use of appropriate materials. In addition, wood is a natural insulating, so timber buildings require less energy for heating and cooling. This results in lower energy costs and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, although wood is a combustible material, it is fire-resistant. Thanks to encapsulation systems and special treatments, it resists fire better than concrete.
Finally, timber environments have positive psychological and physical effects on people, for example, they lower blood pressure and heart rate and have a calming effect.
On the occasion of Bright Night, the citizens of Siena had the opportunity to learn about the Build-in-Wood Project and its objectives, but above all, through dialogue and discussion with researchers, they discovered 10 things to know or not to believe about building with wood.