Wood and the Air We Breathe
"I am not going to move into a block of glass, stone or concrete." Those were the words Albert Einstein used when he opted for a wood home, which still stands in the town of Caputh, close to Berlin.
"I still remember today how our science teacher explained the wondrous and magnificent way we humans breathe: if you were to spread open the pipe and bubble system of our lungs, it would be very thin and cover an area about the size of a football field. On one side of this thin membrane the oxygen-poor blood flows while on the other side oxygen-rich air streams past. The blood absorbs oxygen through this thin surface membrane by a process called osmosis.
Equally & simply, you can explain why wood is such a superior building material for a healthy and comfortable lifestyle. Similar to the human lungs, wood has an incredibly fine cellular system, consisting of thin membranes and inter-cellular spaces. Cell membranes themselves are a system of pores and fine tubules. The result of this delicate texture is the same as in our lungs: an incredibly large 'internal surface area'.
One cubic centimeter of cellulose (percentage wise the most important ingredient of wood) has the unimaginable internal surface area of approximately six million square centimeters. In other words, a game dice of cellulose has a surface area large enough (600 square meters) for a single family home - garden included. This fine structure has the effect of a sponge and acts like an air filter. Wood absorbs and filters harmful and smelly substances, retains and releases moisture and reduces electromagnetic smog inside the house.
Why do we perceive the atmosphere in an alpine cabin as particularly pleasant and cozy, whereas our hair stands up when we enter a brand-new building with sealed and laminated floors, painted wall and ceiling panels? Wood connects with us via our senses of smell, touch, taste and vision. It provides us with a sense of strength, comfort and safety.
A fundamental requirement of healthy homes is that our buildings act as a third skin. This requirement is ingeniously and wonderfully fulfilled by wood. One thing we need to consider though: skin is supposed to breathe and must not be clogged or 'sealed' by airtight coatings, paints and glues. Otherwise, wood fares similarly to the lungs of a heavy smoker!
Because untreated wood is able to breathe, it lowers and harmonizes concentration levels of other substances suspended in the air, like gases, steams and odors and keeps all levels closer to what we experience as healthy, comfortable and beneficial.
A three-hour experiment showed how 0.4m² of untreated wooden cladding per m³ room volume absorbed Formaldehyde from the atmosphere. Without airing the room, the Formaldehyde levels were reduced from 1.2 ppm (equivalent to the smoke of 25 cigarettes) to 0.1 ppm. This result equals the reduction of 1/12 of the original concentration!
For wood to participate in a healthy gas exchange and moisture balancing act in your home, it needs to be untreated, uncoated, unclogged, and preferably unglued."
- Dr. Erwin Thoma
Inventor & Founder of Thoma Holz100
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