City of Pudasjärvi in Finland favours wood for public sector construction

The Pudasjärvi City Council has made a unanimous policy decision to favour wood construction for all public buildings. According to Mayor Tomi Timonen, the political mindset was based on the great significance of the forestry sector in the area. “We wanted to secure the hundreds of industrial jobs offered by the forestry sector, wood processing and construction. Wood construction provides significant cash flow for the area in the form of stump rates, transport, processing and construction. This made it easy to commit to furthering wood construction.”

Timonen emphasises that all municipalities where wood has been adopted in public sector construction have reached a unanimous political stance on promoting wood construction. “Of course we do not use wood construction at any price or on any terms. It has to be a competitive and functional option, where it is possible.”

“Log and wood construction have been purposely selected as an image and brand factor for Pudasjärvi. We have done extensive, purposeful work to further wood construction and we intend to continue on that path because we feel it has many possibilities,” says Timonen. Pudasjärvi is a pioneer and trendsetter in this area.

Capital of log construction

Pudasjärvi has experience with wood construction through its completed day care centre and business and accommodation building as well as a log school campus. Construction of a log assisted-living facility for the elderly, which will accommodate 54 people, will also soon be underway. Construction of three log row houses for special groups will begin this year.

“When the log school campus is completed, Pudasjärvi will have the world’s largest log school, the world’s largest log day care centre and the world’s largest log-house factory,” Timonen says proudly. “There is good reason to say that we are the capital of log and wood construction in Finland.” The possibilities of wood construction in public building projects are still to a large extent not utilised.

Timonen reiterates that the life-cycle model for realisation and financing of the log school campus can serve as a basis for an increasing number of public sector construction projects in the future. “It is also particularly important to develop activities within the walls of wooden buildings so that a strong overall vision supports the possibilities for wood construction to become a new and even stronger construction option.”

Goal is a world-class centre for wood construction expertise

Timonen refers to his experiences including the world-famous wood construction area in Voralberg, Austria, where wood is always the primary construction material whenever possible. “When workers are local they do not dare to do poor work, when it is always there in front of their eyes. Our school campus contractors have all committed to participate in its continuing maintenance and ensure its overall functionality for 25 years.”

Pudasjärvi is known in particular for its public sector log buildings. This can be seen in the great interest municipal builders and financiers show in the city’s building sites and experiences. “We constantly have guests from Finland and abroad. Finland is not a forerunner in wood construction. Instead we have been left as a follower, particularly with respect to the opportunities offered by forestry resources,” says Timonen.

“I believe that many municipalities have a desire to pursue wood construction, but there is a lack of knowledge about practical wood construction projects. We are asked about detailed matters related to procurements. Information and encouragement is now needed for municipal decision-makers, financiers and officials who hesitate to embark on wood projects,” Timonen reiterates.

The City of Pudasjärvi has proposed that support and diversification of wood construction be made strategic goals for the Northern Ostrobothnia region. “The goal is for wood construction to become a more significant option for large-scale blocks of flats, tourism, public sector and industrial buildings as well as facade and energy efficiency repairs to suburban blocks of flats and supplemental construction,” Timonen summarises.

Timonen is pleased with the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court’s decision that allows municipalities to have a say in building materials and ensures that municipalities play a strong role in influencing construction through zoning decisions and property conveyance terms. According to Timonen, Pudasjärvi wants to comprehensively promote research and development in wood construction. “We would like universities, designers and architects, the production industry, developers and builders to take part in programme work. Our goal is to bring different suppliers in the wood construction value chain to the municipality and to build a world-class centre of expertise here.”

“In our own wood construction projects we have learned that there is a great lack of expertise on the architecture and building design side. The big challenge is to bring expertise in building service technology, its requisite details and execution to log construction. More of this expertise is needed.”

Norms in wood construction need to be overhauled

The City of Pudasjärvi has been active in a national experimental project in the municipal sector aimed at overhauling construction and zoning norms. “We are looking for ways to make zoning and construction a more easily manageable and sensible entirety. At the same time we are examining norms at the national level as well as decision-making interfaces at the regional level, for example the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, and the municipal level to see if there is something to be simplified there,” Timonen explains.

Timonen feels the current regulatory situation is very confusing from the standpoint of builders, and upcoming restrictions threaten to create a situation where sensible construction suitable for Finland’s climate conditions is no longer financially or otherwise possible. “Energy efficiency requirements for construction should be simplified to encourage energy-efficiency reviews covering energy-efficiency, ecology and the entire life-cycle of the building.”

“We had many discussions with the Ministry of the Environment about energy efficiency criteria for log construction, and we tried to emphasise that today’s solid logs no longer need to be further insulated. Necessary energy-efficiency requirements can be achieved in other ways. The Ministry of the Environment has clearly been overly enthusiastic about implementing national energy-efficiency regulations arising from EU directives.”

According to Timonen, the goal is also to secure the position of log and other wood construction in the future, when zero-energy regulations come into force in the next few years. “Our goal is of course to make it possible for schools and day care centres to continue to be built with logs without national regulations that prohibit it.”

As a functional solution to new construction regulations Timonen suggests implementing environmental documentation for building supplies that shows their energy and resource-efficiency. “Even voluntary environmental documentation would pave the way for energy-efficient and low-carbon construction, which would make it possible to develop alternative solutions for genuinely healthy, energy-efficient, low-emission and resource-efficient construction.”

“Fire regulations penalise particularly wood surfaces in public sector construction. In this regard wood construction in Finland is handicapped compared to many other countries. In particular, putting solid log and solid wood in the same flammability category with for example thin panel surfaces is not based in reality,” Timonen reiterates.

Timonen believes that overhauling construction norms will make it possible for wood construction to grow. “In small municipalities like this one a shared mindset with various officials and public authorities can be reached quickly, but it is different in larger cities where the attitudes of officials are usually suspicious of wood construction.”