A sustainable finish for homes
The climate and biodiversity emergency is the biggest challenge ever faced by architects, designers and specifiers. They must attempt to match client briefs with the goal of ensuring sustainable designs and healthy environments that tread lightly on the planet.
Specifying materials that are durable, practical, attractive and fit for purpose is the first step towards sustainability. Beyond these key ambitions there is a need to dig deeper. The sustainability of a material relates to its environmental impact over its entire lifecycle. Specifying natural, local materials and those that can be recycled, reused, and have no environmental impact is essential wherever possible.
Timber is frequently cited as the ultimate sustainable material. According to Wood For Good, each 1m3 of wood grown by a tree holds 0.9 tonnes of CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere. When mature trees are harvested, their carbon is captured and stored in buildings and other wood products. Wood can be recycled and reused, and has aesthetic and biophilic qualities too – making it ideal for use in design-led projects!
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An essential consideration is how wood should be protected and enhanced to retain its natural beauty and durability without future degradation. Externally wood may need to be protected from the elements. Internally, protection may be required from general wear and tear, including foot traffic on floors, water damage and dirt. Specifying suitable and sustainable wood finishes is crucial.
When selecting a wood finish, it is not just the level of protection and lifespan provided that is important. It is also the product’s environmental and well-being credentials – both during application and long term – and any accreditations it has. Ease of application and ongoing maintenance are other factors.
Less effort is usually involved in applying oil-based finishes than water-based as they offer far greater spread ability and often twice the coverage of water-based products. An oil based finish usually offers good flow and levelling properties – resulting in smooth and even surfaces without brush marks when dried. They also have a longer lifespan, provide a higher quality finish that does not crack, flake, peel or blister and require less maintenance. When renovation is required, it should simply be a matter of applying another coat – no sanding is usually necessary.
Additionally, oil based finishes have a long open time during application which means they do not need biocides for in-can preservation, and they are not sensitive to frost – this saves money during transport and storage. These products have a longer shelf life of up to 5 years and more which means less wastage of old stock, which is hugely beneficial from an economical as well as from an ecological perspective.
Choosing a Wood Finish
However these benefits are only viable if you choose a reputable product, but not all oil-based options are going to deliver the same high-quality finish, so buyers should choose carefully.
The most environmentally friendly oil-based finishes contain carefully harvested natural oils, hard waxes and inorganic pigments created from natural ores that have been cleaned and refined until only a pure mineral element remains – offering a sustainable source of raw materials. When applied, the finish helps nourish the wood and retain flexibility while forming a protecting, microporous and extremely durable surface that offers great fluid resistance.
Oil-based, penetrating finishes such as those in the Osmo range have a higher solid content meaning they are more durable compared to similar offerings from other manufacturers. Osmo will only add the minimal amount of solvents and once dry they have the lowest impact without long term emissions. Coverage is near double that of an ordinary finishing system. The manufacturers have ISO 14001 environmental management systems certification.
These impressive attributes are not true of all oil-based finishes. Some traditional oil-based products contain toxic and petroleum-based ingredients. Due to the solvents used, volatile organic compound (VOC) levels may be relatively high. Consequently, great care must be taken when specifying as these can affect indoor air quality and impact health. While the oil penetrates the surface, it does not lay on top and, because the products are also less fluid resistant, water marks can quickly appear if care is not taken.
Although oil-based finishes may have a higher initial cost, savings are made due to their impressive long term performance and ease of use.
Unlike traditional oils or varnishes, Osmo are based on renewable raw materials and the combination of oils and waxes protects the wood from within while also creating a dirt repellent surface. The fact that, once dry, they are food and animal safe and suitable for children’s toys speaks for itself.