In September, Contrasol celebrated FSC Forest Week which raised awareness of sustainable forestry in the use of architectural timber. In this blog, the fifth in the series, we look at the use of timber in the design and construction of both brise soleil and screening systems in buildings.
Timber has a natural, warm aesthetic and its grain patterns and various wood species provide a wide range of design options to create visually striking facades. In addition to aesthetic appeal, timber offers a number of different advantages in comparison to other material options.
Types of Timber
Several types of timber can be used for brise soleil and louvres, with the choice depending on factors such as climate, durability and design preferences.
Western Red Cedar is the most common timber for brise soleil systems (as well as other façade and cladding projects) due to its natural resistance to decay and insects, it being lightweight and so easy to work with, and it’s beautiful reddish-brown appearance that weathers to a silver-grey colour.
European Oak is available in a wide range of sizes and grades which gives it an almost unparalleled versatility. It offers a golden yellow brown appearance and has a distinctive grain with annual growth rings clearly visible on crown cut boards. It weathers to a natural silver colour if left uncoated. It finishes well and can be stained, polished, waxed and glued satisfactorily, which makes it a good option, albeit an expensive one.
Sweet Chestnut offers a light golden appearance and if left untreated, will patina to a natural silver colour. This species is generally straight grained, hard wearing and durable and renowned for its similarity to Oak, but at a more reasonable cost. This makes it an attractive option for brise soleil and louvre projects.
Accoya is modified type of timber that undergoes a process called acetylation to enhance its durability, stability and resistance to decay. It is the most stable species and has a life expectancy of 50 plus years. It is fire treatable although it is not easy to do and as a construction option is expensive so not always the best option for this reason.
Thermowood is a modified type of Scandinavian softwood timber that is produced by heat-treating at a very high temperature. During this heat treatment, chemical and structural changes occur within the timber which alter and improve some of its basic characteristics. The temperature removes some natural additives which create a better performance wood. It’s more resistant to swelling, cracking and shrinking (and rot and fungi) than natural wood and has increased longevity.
Other types of timber species such as Redwood and Siberian Larch have too much movement and twist across the spans required for solar shading systems and so are not as readily used or recommended.
Timber as a sustainable material
Timber is a renewable resource that can be harvested sustainably. When managed properly, forests can be regrown and maintained for continuous timber production. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. When used in construction, timber products continue to store carbon, reducing the overall carbon footprint of a building. This makes the use of timber in construction and design an effective way to sequester carbon and combat climate change. Timber also requires relatively low energy to produce in comparison to other materials and so reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, timber can be recycled and repurposed into new products or used as biomass for energy production. This reduces waste and extends the materials lifecycle.
Contrasol only works with suppliers who offer fully certified timber in FSC, PEFC, SFI or CSA, depending on species and country of origin. By being part of these certification programs, companies can ensure their materials come from well-managed forests that prioritise biodiversity, conservation and long-term sustainability.
Effectiveness in solar shading systems
In addition to aesthetics and sustainability, timber is particularly effective in brise soleil systems due to its good insulating properties, which can help regulate temperature and reduce heat gain within a building. Similarly timber louvres, when properly designed, can promote natural ventilation by allowing air to flow through a building while blocking direct sunlight. This can reduce the need for mechanical cooling systems, thus saving energy and reducing operational costs. It can also provide sound insulation and reduce noise pollution for louvres in areas with high noise levels. Finally, timber can be easily customized and shaped into various forms and profiles to create unique brise soleil and louvre designs. It can be stained, painted or finished in different ways to achieve the desired aesthetic and protection level making it an incredibly versatile material to work with.
Fire safety affects all forms of construction but may be at the forefront of clients minds when considering to use timber for external cladding and solar shading. All buildings must, by law, be designed to comply
with the functional protocols of the Building Regulations for fire safety requirement as a minimum standard. Whilst timber is a combustible material, it has significant insulating properties and burns in a slow, predictable and measurable way. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that mass timber is actually safer in a fire than steel. In a fire, a thick plank of wood will char on the outside, sealing the interior and protecting it from damage. Fire retardant treatments can also be added to timber to further protect it from fire damage.
Timber is an excellent option for brise soleil and louvre projects due to it’s aesthetic appeal, sustainability, effectiveness in reducing heat gain and preventing noise pollution. Contrasol works with Vincent Timber to supply high quality, sustainably sourced timber that creates stunning results.