From Finland to Flanders: Arctic wooden housing is all the rage

Summary

Easy to assemble, natural, warmer… home-builders in Flanders are discovering the benefits of creating houses made from pine shipped from much further north

Home is where the hout is

The fleet of lorries driving from Finland to Flanders is growing each year. They’re transporting lumber, paper and Christmas trees – and entire homes. One lorry is just large enough to carry one dissembled house, in the form of blocks and beams of pine from above the Arctic Circle.

“Due to the limited amount of sunshine in the north of Finland, trees grow there at a much slower pace,” explains Hugo Oeyen, who lives in a wooden house near Oudenaarde, East Flanders.

In his spare time, Oeyen helps his son-in-law, the sole distributor of Finnish houses in Flanders. “Arctic pine is much solider than any other affordable wood,” he says, pointing at the growth rings on the cross-section of a log on his wooden table. And indeed, the rings are extremely close to each other.

Oeyen’s house, where he lives with his wife, Bea, also serves as a show home for interested customers of their son-in-law’s firm, Finnloghouse. One of the first things that strikes as you enter is the smell of natural, untreated wood.

It’s not just the materials that make a massive wooden house different from a traditional brick home: the construction method is also entirely different. The house is delivered to the site by a lorry as a giant box of building blocks, after which the building – or assembling – can begin. 

Easy assembly

Finnloghouse offers its clients two formulas, depending on their budget and their willingness to roll up their sleeves: an all-inclusive option and a DIY-with-assistance package. Oeyen: “Most of our clients choose the second option. Assembling a wooden house is much easier than building a brick one.”

The assembly process is straightforward because every block and beam has already been cut to size in Finland. Long plugs made of birch wood replace nails and screws to keep everything together, and it takes only three months to put up an entire house. 

But we would never want to live in a ‘cold’ brick house; every time we come home, it’s to our own holiday home

- Inge De Quick

This short building period was definitely one of the reasons why Inge De Quick and her husband, Ronny, chose Finnloghouse to provide their new home in Lochristi, East Flanders. “But we both always dreamed of living in a house like this,” says De Quick. “I think it’s a result of our many holidays to Austria, because our house does look a bit like a holiday home in the Alps.”

So what’s it like to live in a wooden house? A major difference between wood and stone is the fact that wood is a breathing, “living” material, one that constantly exchanges water with the environment. Because of this, the humidity is between 30 and 40%, which makes it feel warmer than it actually is.

De Quick’s house is also energy efficient, though the Energy Performance and Interior Climate index (EPB) doesn’t endorse that. “The problem is that the EPB didn’t consider the wooden walls as insulation, when in fact they are,” says De Quick. “I think the legislation here just isn’t ready for Finnish houses.”

Learned to live with it

Are there no downsides? Of course there are.

First of all, a wooden house is more expensive than a brick house of comparable size. Oeyen admits that. But he likes to counter it with the short building period. “If you’re paying a lot of rent every month while waiting to move into your new home, a wooden house could actually work out as the cheapest option.”

De Quick can only name one disadvantage, but she and her husband have learned to live with it. “When you’re downstairs, you hear literally everything that happens upstairs. Some people might get annoyed by this,” she says. “But we would never want to live in a ‘cold’ brick house; every time we come home, it’s to our own holiday home.”

Photo courtesy Finnloghouse