SA should build 95 000 wooden houses a year – new study explains why

by Ofentse Sefolo
SA should build 95 000 wooden houses a year – new study explains why

South Africa has as much as 6,23 million cubic metres of log resource options available to build close to 95 000 houses a year, according to researchers at Stellenbosch University (SU) who studied the potential for such a housing solution.

Despite this resource availability, alarmingly only 1% of new houses in the country are wood-based, compared to more than 90% in countries such as the United States of America (USA), Canada and Australia.

Key findings
Excluding imports and current pulp, board and other log resources, wood materials filling 6 019 Boeing 747s or 55 377 double-decker City Sightseeing busses are available for wood house components in the future, according to Philip Crafford from SU’s Department of Forest and Wood Science.

Crafford and his colleague, Brand Wessels, investigated the country’s log resources and the potential global warming impact of an increasing wood-based residential building market. The findings of their study were published in the South African Journal of Science recently.

The duo wanted to determine whether local forest resources would be able to supply the required wood for substantial growth in wood-based residential development in South Africa. They analysed the residential housing footprint in the country, available log resources for wood-based buildings and the likely environmental impacts of such a building system.

The study showed that with the use of wood resources currently exported as chips, as well as planting trees in areas that have been earmarked for afforestation, it will be possible (in the long term) to sustain a future residential building market where all houses are built with wood.”

Common misperception
Given the limited forest cover in South Africa, the perception is often that significant increases in the market share of wood-based buildings are not possible (at least from local wood resources). The study showed that this perception is not correct.

“If we consider only the current available wood chips as a resource, 39 646 wood-based houses (30 523 houses and 9 123 flats) could be built annually. With the afforestation resources, 55 314 houses (42 586 houses and 12 728 flats) could be constructed each year. This is 1 203 more than the average new buildings in the past 17 years.

“Considering both wood chips and afforestation resource potential, close to 95 000 wood-based houses (172% of the current supply) could be built annually,” he says.

Availability and exports
Crafford adds that South Africa’s industrial round wood (saw logs for everyday use) production is mainly used to make pulp and board products (51%), sawn lumber (24%) and chip exports for Asia.

“Over the past ten years, we exported an average of 3,5 million tons of wood chips annually. Chip exports is the most likely available resource which could potentially be used in the building of wood-based houses.”

Environmental benefits
Regarding the environmental impact, Crafford says numerous studies have shown that timber is not only renewable, but is also the best performer across most environmental impact factors when compared to alternative building materials such as steel and concrete, with a particularly good performance in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our basic modelling analyses shows that if 20% of new houses were to be built with wood, the amount of energy/fossil fuels required for production and the global warming potential of the residential building sector could decrease by 4,9%. If all new constructions were wood-based, this could decrease by up to 30%,” Crafford concludes.

This study offers much to think about. Share your views on our social media pages.

For more information, contact Philip Crafford from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Forest and Wood Science:
Tel: +27 21 808 9111
E-mail: info@sun.ac.za

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