Versatile timber is a healthy choice

The construction and materials used in mental health facilities are at the core of how care is ultimately delivered – a critical factor with a direct effect on the physical and psychological wellbeing of the end-users. Timber technology can be highly beneficial in this environment, says Ian Loughnane, business unit director of Kingspan Timber Solutions

The design of any mental health care building has a direct effect on both patients and the overall efficiency of the care delivered to service users. So, when it comes to specifying materials for the construction there are many factors that must be taken into consideration.

With the right design and building materials, service providers are able to offer a comfortable and therapeutic environment that can greatly benefit potentially distressed and vulnerable patients.

When selecting building materials we have to ensure they are suitably robust and appropriate for the operation of the facility. Although wear and tear is expected in all buildings – some mental health units require enhanced mechanical robustness in certain areas. The maintenance of a high-quality, well maintained and functionally efficient building is a fundamental part of the service delivery and architects have long understood the impact of space on people.

Uniquely placed

Timber is uniquely placed to deliver these requirements. Lining walls with plywood or Oriented Strand Board (OSB) provides a continuous support to hard wall finishes, resulting in a strong and resilient wall while allowing easy servicing within the structure. It’s also possible to combine the pleasing visual characteristics of timber with enormous structural strength and robustness of cross laminated timber (CLT).

Visually exposed glulam frames offer the opportunity to create a light, warm and pleasing open environment, within facilities that support a sense of wellbeing. Timber structures and applications offer more than just functional space, but can also facilitate the design of a welcoming, peaceful and homely atmosphere.

As well as offering aesthetically pleasing and calming elements, off-site-manufactured timber systems also provide rapid construction times with increased levels of accuracy throughout the build process. This comes as a huge advantage when constructing healthcare buildings where budgets and timescales are frequently challenging.

There is a direct correlation between the quality of an environment and human health and wellbeing. The best practice guidance, set out in BREEAM Healthcare and the Good Corporate Citizen Model (NHS), recognises this and is an essential part of the planning process. A holistic design should also include measures to minimise waste during construction and lower energy costs in use and provide re-use or recycling potential at the end of a building’s life.

Sustainable and renewable

Timber is the number one sustainable and renewable building material, offering enhanced energy efficiency beyond the construction process and throughout the whole life cycle of the building. Timber systems are designed to maximise thermal performance and minimise air leakage, resulting in well- insulated, higher-performance buildings that do not require expensive bolt-on technologies to enhance the environmental performance and will ultimately reduce running costs. This is of huge benefit to organisations, such as the NHS, with significant built assets to maintain that require a considerable amount of power to run. The continuing savings made from increased energy efficiency can have a huge impact.

Thermal comfort is a factor that must be considered when it comes to the health and wellbeing of occupants. Timber technology provides external walls with high thermal insulation without the need to be produced at a thicker scale. Over recent years, the timber frame industry has moved from 90mm to 140mm external wall studs – providing additional space for installing insulation. Other sectors tackle issues of thermal comfort through the application of thicker walls, this is more costly and it reduces the usable floor area of a building.

Wide range

Occupants in a mental health facility may find certain noises distressing – therefore acoustics must be taken into account in the design of the building. Thermal, acoustic and airtightness contributions from the application of timber frame have been proven to be higher than those gained from traditional materials. Overall timber offers a robust, energy efficient sustainable structure with real aesthetic merit – ideal for a wide range of healthcare facilities.

The transition to a low-carbon economy presents the timber products industry with great opportunities for growth. Environmental considerations will transform how buildings are constructed, what materials are used and the methods employed.

I believe that we are now on the cusp of the predicted ‘sea-change’. The time is right for the construction industry to embrace innovative timber technology and off-site techniques to develop better buildings at a rapid rate. This will enhance lives, minimise the environmental impact and reduce energy costs for occupants for many years to come.