Is the perceived healthiness of wood more than a feeling?


Wood is by far the most popular material for building detached houses and holiday homes in Finland, but the current trend that favours ecological and healthy materials may increase the use of wood in large-scale constructions. Is it possible to scientifically determine the health effects of wood?

Wood is perceived as a traditional, ecological and healthy building material. The ecological advantages of wood are widely recognized, but now researchers from Tampere University of Technology (TUT), the University of Tampere and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) have launched a project titled ‘Wood for Good’ to scientifically explore the health effects of wood as a building material.

“Previous research has indicated that wood is a restorative material. The earlier findings are based on measuring the activity of the autonomous nervous system, such as changes in skin conductance, the release of stress hormones, and heart rate variations. We are looking to verify the health benefits of wood and investigate why and when wood has this effect on us,” says researcher Riina Muilu-Mäkelä from Luke.

The researchers will examine how test subjects complete a series of tests in two offices, one of them built mainly of wood materials and the other of synthetic materials, such as drywall.

“We will measure the physiological and psychological wellbeing of the test subjects as well as the function of their eyes, which may be affected by the volatile compounds emitted from building materials,” describes Muilu-Mäkelä.

“If we are able to demonstrate that the use of wood as a building material can support the wellbeing of occupants, it will have substantial economic and health effects. And while wood is often more expensive than synthetic materials, health considerations may emerge as one the key factors that influence consumer choices in the future.”

Wooden multi-storey buildings remain a rarity. Less than 1,500 wooden blocks of flats have been built in Finland in the past two decades, which is about 10 per cent of all the blocks of flats built on an annual basis. The popularity of high-rise wooden structures has begun to increase only in recent years.

“There is a great deal of potential to use wood to build blocks of flats and public buildings, renovate building façades, add an extra storey to an existing building, and develop vacant or underdeveloped land in urban areas. The export potential is also huge,” says Associate Professor (tenure track) Markku Karjalainen from the Laboratory of Architecture at TUT.

Text: Kati Vastamäki and Sanna Kähkönen
Photo: 123rf