Industrial production behind the success of wood construction in Sweden

Industrial production systems, speed and the strong competitiveness of wood construction are the key success factors in Swedish wood construction. According to Niclas Svensson, Director of Träbyggnadkansli which promotes wood construction in Sweden, industrial production solutions and systems have made Swedish wood construction very competitive, and have lifted its share of multi-storey apartment building construction to 20%. ”In addition to the wood as a material, an industrial production system that produces light, eco-friendly and renewable building materials at a competitive prices has also been essential,” explains Svensson. As a driver of the growth of wood construction, Svensson sees the local government sector, whose social housing production represents half of all Swedish apartment building construction.  

In recent months, Niclas Svensson has toured Sweden and met many representatives of local government, among others. In Sweden, local government is a significant player in the housing market, because it orders and owns rental housing built through social housing production. ”The municipalities have seen successful wood construction projects and interest is growing everywhere,” says Svensson. ”The competitiveness and speed of wood construction is especially interesting for municipal builders, because the municipalities act as developers in social rental housing production on small budgets."

Niclas Svensson says that in future the entire construction sector must increasingly focus on industrial building systems. ”Construction has also had an impact on employment as, because of a lack of professionally-skilled builders, work has started to move from the building site to the factory hall, where the majority of housing production construction now takes place.”

According to Svensson, what is essential is the industrial production that makes wood construction competitive, not so much the material itself. ”Wood construction benefits from industrial building systems," says Svensson. As an example, he mentions the Lindbäcks Bygg company, which is the largest supplier of prefabricated elements for wood construction in Sweden. ”In its markets, the company uses a specific industrial production system that produces light eco-friendly construction for the consumer at a competitive price.”

Wood construction controlling climate change

According to Niclas Svensson, there is much construction of multi-storey wooden apartment buildings now underway in Sweden. Sweden is building 2,500 apartments in wooden buildings every year. ”Although everyone is talking about energy-savings, it will also be essential in future to look at the challenges of construction in relation to climate change. Construction must target a negative emissions balance sheet, and this will only work through the selection of the right materials,” says Svensson showing a picture of a pine seedling growing into a new home.

”Although responding to climate change should be an important challenge for the construction industry, it is not yet, as economic factors are driving things forward," says Svensson. ”The entire cement industry is a major problem from the perspective of climate change. Ecological factors are strongly emerging. Instead of the zero energy debate, we must pay attention to the use of building materials and the carbon footprint they produce, because the renewability of materials will be at the core of Swedish construction."

Svensson thinks that the arguments in favour of wood construction must be changed. ”Climate change must be taken seriously and the use of renewable materials in construction must be increased. People must be told that, if they live in a wooden house, they can influence climate change. Of course, the construction of wooden apartment blocks must be suitable for the consumer from a point of view of price, quality and functionality, because the material alone is not enough. Unfortunately, the actual ecological knowledge that consumers have about building materials and carbon footprints is as yet pretty sparse, even though there is much discussion of environmental values and they are respected,” says Svensson.

He thinks that Sweden also needs the political influence to renovate the buildings constructed in the 1960s and 70s. ”Both new and renovated apartments should be energy-efficient from a point of view of climate change, although it's difficult to justify this to consumers. But home-owners themselves should take a great interest in this. Housing associations should build additional storeys using light wood construction technology and, by selling them, get additional revenue for the energy-related repairs that the buildings need. In the energy debate, we are now talking about the use of renewable forms of energy in the heating of buildings, not about the building materials as we should be.”

Social housing production as a driver of growth for wood construction

Sweden took a leaf out of Finland’s book when, in 2002, wood construction began to receive political support, thanks to positive Finnish experiences. In 2005, the government launched a wood construction programme and established its office for the promotion of wood construction, Träbyggnadskansli. In December 2008, the Wood Cities (Trästad) 2012 programme was launched and is still ongoing. This project, funded by the Swedish government and partially by the EU-involves 16 local governments and the second stage of the project now under preparation, Wooden Cities 2020, will involve 30. The aim of the project is to conceptualise and develop technical solutions and wooden architecture for wood construction.

 ”Although construction is technology and finance, political support has been indispensible to the promotion of wood construction, especially in municipalities, which produce social rental housing production," says Svensson. When Sweden began the political programmes meant to promote wood construction, it used Finland’s experiences as an example. ”So far we have moved about 10,000 jobs from the forest sector to the construction industry. We have been able to increase the share of wood construction in the apartment building sector to one-fifth, and to produce fine, new, top-quality homes for consumers. The share of social rental housing production in wood construction funded by local government is significant, because half of all construction is social housing production. Good references stimulate demand,” says Svensson.

Wood construction needs experts

Svensson also sees great opportunities for wood in the construction of bridges and halls, because glued laminated timber technology can now compete with steel. ”Wood construction has major potential. The biggest challenge is a lack of experts, which is already being seen as one of the factors limiting its expansion. We have established that we need 7,000 experts to enter the industry very quickly. We need a more balanced outlook in construction training, because all the time more experts are being trained in other materials than are being trained for wood construction,” says Svensson.

Puuinfo article service/Markku Laukkanen

More information: Niclas Svensson, niclas.svensson@trabyggnadskansliet.se, tel: +46 70-372 34 06