Can wooden apartment buildings solve housing shortages?

5:46 min

Can building with wood solve the notorious housing shortages in Sweden's major cities? One building firm has proposed constructing 6,000 new timber-built housing units in Stockholm, over the next ten years.

The building firm Folkhem has been building houses from wood since 1968. In recent years they have begun building higher and higher, completely with timber. In Stockholm suburb Sundbyberg, they've built two eight-story apartment buildings and have a vision of going as tall as 22 stories. One of their main motivations for building with wood is that it is greener than building with concrete, and they say it is also faster. But convincing people that building tall with wood has not been easy.

But in recent years, many have begun rethinking the methods and materials of high building construction. And with climate change becoming a more and more pressing problem, people are looking for greener alternatives.

"Every cubic meter of wood that you use will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by two tons. And we also know that all the resources used in the building industry will be finished, but the timber and the forests will always be there if you take care of them," said Arne Olsson, CEO of Folkhem.

The timber used to construct the buildings is from pine trees, and all of it comes from Swedish forests. The only wood that does not come from Sweden is the Cedar siding coating the outside of the building.

Madeleine has been living in the first of the two Sundbyberg buildings since it was built two years ago. She says the smell of the wood when it rains reminds her of running through the forest as a child and that the wood in the building really absorbs most sounds.

"I love this because you can't hear your neighbors, and we live next to the road and can't hear the cars. It looks really cool. I love it here," Madeleine said.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic as Madeleine about building all in wood.

"Up until 1994 building with timber higher than two stories had been forbidden for 100 years because of city fires in the nineteenth century. But the old houses are made with planks and now these houses are made with massive timber, which is compact."

According to Folkhem, the timber houses are actually more fire resistant than steel and concrete constructions, which has been confirmed by the Solna-Sundbyberg fire department. The timber, being so dense, chars on the outside during a fire but maintains the ability to support the building.

Olsson says that in Sundbyberg they been supportive of the timber houses and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven visited the two buildings on Tuesday, wanting to find out about building with timber.

But the city most dedicated to building with timber is Växjö, in Småland in the south of Sweden. The city has mandated that 50% of all buildings be built with timber by 2020. Currently, they are at 25%.

And Olsson says that they have made a smaller proposal for the city of Stockholm.

"We have offered Stockholm to build 6,000 new apartments units in timber buildings over the next ten years, which would reduce carbon emissions more than closing the Bromma airport would," Olsson said.