It’s not just the UK that stands to benefit from the wider adoption of structural timber building solutions. In fact, there are a number of countries which could also use the material to meet crucial development targets and reduce levels of carbon consumption.
That’s why we recently launched our ‘Timber Around The World’ series of blogs. This month, we talk to Tim Buhler, Technical Manager at Wood WORKS!, a market development initiative in Canada.
Hi Tim – can you explain what Wood WORKS! is?
It’s been launched by the Canadian Wood Council Programme and the organisation’s main aim is to help to grow the use of wood products in construction. In that sense, it’s really similar to the ‘Time for Timber’ campaign in the UK. We act as the Canadian voice for the wood products industry and help to educate design professionals on where and when to use the material.
In practice, we act in the same way as a standard national federation and incorporate all aspects of timber products; from structural two by fours, all the way up to mass timber CLT manufacturing. We want to make sure that developers feel confident in specifying wood products and to ensure they have the right support. With our assistance, we’re confident that we can help to grow the market across the country.
Personally, I work on the market development side of operations. So, my main goal is to get the word out about the benefits of wood products. There’s another team at the Canadian Wood Council that focuses on engineering and building codes, as well as making regulations more accepting towards the use of wood products. Collectively, we work together to make sure we’re reaching all relevant parties.
What’s the biggest obstacle to using timber in Canada?
As a nation, we don’t tend to build homes from materials like concrete, or brick. Therefore, we’re in a rather unique situation where the vast majority of residential construction (up-to three storeys) is already built from timber. However – it’s very rare for buildings larger than that to be constructed from timber. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one is a lack of education about the material’s suitability to this form of construction.
Over the years, we’ve worked hard to tackle this education issue, but there’s still more to be done. Currently, the number of courses in colleges and universities that relate to steel and concrete construction vastly outnumber those relating to timber. With that said, there is nothing specific in our building codes to prevent more timber construction. As a result, the task is about changing mindsets.
Can environmental goals help to encourage that change?
Absolutely. Like so many other countries, Canada faces a challenge of dealing with growing population levels, whilst also trying to limit carbon consumption. We believe wood can have a major impact in this area. As a nation, we’re still going to need to build more homes, but sustainably. Thanks to wood construction, you have that option and can effectively tackle both goals.
We’re already seeing the appetite growing across parts of the country. For example, the market in British Columbia is already really strong. At the same time, there’s new timber developments popping up in throughout Canada, which are gaining positive attention.
How can the Canadian Government help in this effort?
The government is already assisting in these efforts. Federal and provincial governments are major supporters of our programs. In addition to the local benefits, as a major exporter of wood products, Canada’s economy stands to massively benefit from the wider adoption of materials like structural timber. That’s another big reason to support the industry. So, even if you’re a politician who doesn’t put too much emphasis on improving environmental performance there’s still a strong economic argument to back developing the sector.
Is the insurance sector an issue that you need to overcome?
Yes, it’s certainly a roadblock. The good news is that as more large timber buildings are built there’s more historical data for insurers to compare when putting together their rates. The bad news is that we’re still working through that process and there remains obstacles we’re yet to overcome.
Ultimately, if people are financially disincentivized to use timber then that will have an impact. With the high insurance rates on certain forms of building types that’s sadly what’s happening now. Even builders who are very committed to the material aren’t going to use it over making a profit. Our job is to level that playing field.
What does success look like in the next ten years?
We’re working towards a number of aims. From the insurance side, we want to help develop a better understanding of timber as a material and to assuage some of the unfounded concerns about its performance. We’re hoping to see projects receive more favourable building classifications. For example, it would be a huge step forward to see some mass timber buildings recognised for their increased fire resistance and moved out of the insurance category they currently share with light wood frame buildings.
We’re also looking for more communication with the industry. Our model has been successful in the past, so now it’s about rolling that out and reaching more architects and engineers. Likewise, we want to ensure we’re speaking with developers and owners about the material’s benefits. By working on a building-by-building basis, we hope to be able to inspire more wide scale adoption.
Whilst ambitious, we think these goals are realistic, especially in light of the need for the building sector to adopt more sustainable practices into its operations. In the next few months, we’re going to see 12-storey mass timber structures receive the green light in our National Building Code, which is really positive.
Finally, I’d love to see more global collaboration from like-minded organisations representing the timber and wood construction industry. We’ve had preliminary meetings with similar bodies in Austria, Australia and China, as well as the work we’re already doing with the Structural Timber Association. There’s so much potential for us to come together and amplify our voice on a global level.
To find out more about the work that Tim does as part of Wood WORKS! and the Canadian Wood Council, please visit: www.wood-works.ca
Across the globe, there are many examples of countries that have embraced the use of structural timber, yet the situation in the UK is rather more complicated. The uptake of timber varies enormously between the home nations – with Scotland storming ahead while England sadly lags behind. As part of our Timber Around the World series, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, asks why this is the case, discussing the contrasting approaches to building with timber between England and its closest neighbour.
In a report conducted by the Forestry Commission, it was found that across the UK, only 25% of all new housing uses timber frame construction. Yet, another study concluded that in Scotland alone, timber frame construction accounts for 75% of new housing, with some sources quoting this figure as high as 85%. These drastically different figures clearly demonstrate that developers in Scotland are far more willing to use structural timber products within construction. The question is then, why do England and Scotland differ so much?
Historically, structures would be built using materials that were immediately available – locally abundant and easily sourced. This notion is important as for Scotland, timber was a much more accessible resource than in England, where instead stone, sandstone and clay were the more easily obtainable materials. This is a major contributing reason as to why Scotland is more inclined to build with timber, as it has been the main material used for generations. It is also worth mentioning that in Scotland, Building Standards recognise the prolific use of timber frame in the residential sector, for both single family and multiple occupancy homes. By acknowledging this demand, efforts are made to make regulatory compliance easier for the housebuilder. In contrast, no such recognition exists in England, inadvertently favouring traditional construction methods.
Despite the many benefits that timber offers, and due to the reasons raised above, it would seem that housebuilders in England are choosing to stick with materials and methods that they are familiar with. Any hope of changing this mindset is not a process that can be completed overnight.
In recent years though, this trend has seen a definite shift, with housebuilders in England gradually increasing their use of timber frame – including many of the market leaders. For example, in 2018 Countryside acquired the Westframe timber frame manufacturing facility, with Barratt Homes buying Oregon Timber Frame the following year. Persimmon Homes also has its own timber frame manufacturing arm, Space4.This change has been partially driven by skills and labour shortages, an issue that continues to grow. A report, compiled by the Federation of Master Builders, found that in Q1 of this year, 38% of builders struggled to hire bricklayers, an increase from 22% in Q4 2020.
Construction companies in England are being forced to turn to alternative methods because of this, with Steven Boyes, Chief Operating Officer at Barratt Developments PLC saying: “Barratt is committed to increasing the number of homes we build using offsite construction as part of our overall volume growth aspirations and to mitigate the current skills challenges facing the industry.” As alluded to in this statement, many businesses are looking towards offsite timber construction as a means to overcome the current skills shortages and have found that it offers other benefits.
Offsite construction provides a faster, cheaper, more reliable and sustainable method of housebuilding compared to traditional techniques. With new Government targets, including Net Zero by 2050 and affordable housing schemes, English companies are slowly beginning to realise that using modern methods of construction (MMC), such as offsite construction, is the only viable way in which to achieve these targets. The push for English housing associations to adopt the use of MMC was realised last year when the National Housing Federation began their ‘Building Better’ scheme.
The scheme, which involves 15 England-based members of the National Housing Federation, aims to reduce CO₂ emissions, improve building efficiency and decrease long-term costs through the use of MMC. The housing associations taking part in the scheme have all agreed to adopt MMC’s as part of their building strategies for delivering new homes. ‘Building Better’ could mark the start of England catching up with Scotland, and other nations, regarding its use of structural timber.
Despite being so close geographically, England and Scotland couldn’t differ more in their use of structural timber. Generations of English builders favouring the use of stone has led to little use of timber in modern construction. However, skills shortages and Government targets have left many companies having to rethink their approach and maybe moving forward, we will see a more prevalent use of structural timber in England.
For more information about the STA please visit https://www.structuraltimber.co.uk/
Mass timber in the USA – part 2
Q&A with Jake Concannon, Vice President of Gallagher Global
In the second part of our Q&A with Gallagher Global’s Vice President, Jake Concannon, we learn more about how the insurance sector perceives structural timber solutions and its role in the American construction market.
There is tight legislation in the UK on how high timber buildings can be built. Do you have similar restrictions in the United States?
Yes we do, but they vary from state to state. Right now, 18 storeys is the cap and we’re working with some clients who are building to that size. With that said, the majority of timber buildings are under five storeys. For the most part, these buildings are either housing or office complexes, but across the board they’re becoming more popular in recent years.
The UK doesn’t have a great heritage of working with timber, which countries do you see as leaders in the field?
When it comes to mass timber it’s got to be Austria. I’d also highlight Australia, which has been doing some cool stuff in the last few years. Here in the United States, it’s definitely the North West that’s leading the way. Some countries, such as Canada have been using mass timber for 20 years, but even there the insurance market has changed in recent times. Just two years ago colleagues in Canada had no problem getting insurance, but that’s not the case anymore. I often wonder why we’re unable to get data from countries like Switzerland, Austria and Germany, where these systems have been in use for a while and use it to support our own arguments.
Is climate change not a factor in driving more wide scale adoption of timber frame buildings in the United States?
I think it is, but you’ve also got to realise that within the United States there are a lot of different opinions around that subject. There is a significant proportion of the population who don’t believe that climate change is real and maintain the climate has always been changing. For these people, it doesn’t matter what we do because they don’t believe the science. Equally, there are a lot of people who simply don’t care about the subject and aren’t going to embrace new solutions regardless of how beneficial they might be.
With that said, the United States is now implementing new environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards for businesses to follow. So, I think as some of the larger companies start working towards meeting these ESG goals it might inspire a broader change. That’s probably the most likely way for a shift in thinking to occur and benefits from not requiring us to persuade individuals on this highly contentious issue.
How do you see the future relationship between the timber construction industry and insurance sector progressing?
Right now, the push is all about the tech side, with technology being designed to help offset any risks. For example, sensors can be put into buildings during the construction process, which can detect smoke, fire and water moisture content in the air. Nowadays, insurers are asking for a lot of security provisions on wooden buildings because of the risk of arson, so there’s a big technology push in that direction.
I feel much more confident about mass timber solutions, which I think will get the proper support from insurance providers soon. It actually reminds me a lot of the solar market in the post-recession era. Around that time, solar and renewable energy became big and there was a lot of money invested into it, alongside a lot of tax credits. A lot of our contractor clients quickly jumped into installing and building solar panels. It took time to navigate, but eventually people got really comfortable with the technologies.
In general, the insurance sector is wary of new technologies. As such, it’s going to take some years for the timber sector to get there, but with time it will. It’s a good sign that some of our biggest clients are investing heavily into this, including Google. When you have the support of truly smart companies like this it puts the onus on insurance companies to explain why they’re so against it. In that argument, most people will choose to side with these leading firms who have a track record of being ahead of the crowd and right on important issues.
For more information about Gallagher Global, please visit: https://www.ajg.com
To read the first part of this Q&A with Jake Concannon, please click here.
Mass timber in the USA – part 1
Q&A with Jake Concannon, Vice President at Gallagher Global
Many nations across the world have adopted timber as their primary building material, yet the UK lags well behind. Over the coming months we will be asking why this is the case, with a series of blogs that highlight international perspectives, best practice and inspirational projects. Kicking off this global tour, our first instalment takes a closer look at the arguments and reasoning behind America’s choice of timber ahead of other materials.
Since its beginnings in 1927, Gallagher Global has been a leader in the field of insurance brokerage, risk management and human capital consultancy. Operating in more than 150 countries, the company has tremendous insight into the different risks associated with various building materials, including structural timber. We recently caught up with the company’s Vice President, Jake Concannon to learn more about how the insurance sector perceives structural timber solutions and its role in the American construction market.
What is the current state of the construction insurance market in the USA?
It’s been a really dynamic couple of years, with a lot of ups and downs. It’s clear that climate change is starting to affect things in America; from wildfires in California to the ‘big freeze’ in Texas. All of this is driving liability pricing up and having a big impact on the construction insurance world. In particular, recent events are affecting the insurance of projects involving wood frame construction. Unfortunately, there remains a misconception amongst insurance companies that wood frame construction projects will inevitably lead to claims, which is putting many parties off.
Right now, most insurance companies have very little capacity to cover wood frame projects. So, if you’re a contractor and owner and you’re looking to build with wood, then there’s only a small number of companies you can go to for cover. At Gallagher Global, we’re looking to change this and have been focused on helping light-frame wood construction buildings, which use cross laminated timber (CLT) to become more commonplace. In turn, that means comparing the risks associated with CLT construction with other materials, such as concrete and steel.
That’s great to hear, so what specifically are you doing to help this area to grow?
As I say, it’s an area of great focus for myself and for Gallagher Global. We’re working to educate insurers about the benefits of the material and supplying them with all the relevant information and data. Right now, it’s an especially hard market, but this normally happens in the aftermath of a major event. In general, hard markets tend to only last for a year or two before things start to ease up a bit. I think the general sentiment amongst insurers is that this period will soon come to an end and we’re glad to have helped in that endeavour. We’re most encouraged with our conversation with AXA, who seem to have good capacity to accommodate more CLT projects.
What was the main focus of your conversations with AXA?
We wanted to highlight some of the common misconceptions around mass timber solutions and explain why they were incorrect. It first started with a 30-minute call between both companies. During this conversation, we introduced AXA to one of our clients who has a major mass timber division in the North West of America. We had engineers from that company explain how major mass timber systems perform against steel and concrete. We also detailed the international building codes that have been adopted in this country in recent years and explained how they’ve been applied to mitigate the risk of fire and water damage to these projects.
Then AXA brought in its reinsurance partners to further discuss changing its position. In the insurance world, you have the main insurers and then behind them are the banks who really pull the strings, and create the rules on what insurance companies can and can’t do. With AXA’s help, we were able to get all parties into a Q&A forum and work through some of the issues. It was a lot of work, but the results were very positive. After all that, AXA ended up issuing a press release detailing its decision to change course on the issue. Now, we’re looking to repeat this success with other insurers and are using AXA’s decision to leverage those results.
What’s delaying other insurance companies in coming to this conclusion?
I think the concept of wood building solutions not being a fire risk is hard for some people to grasp. Likewise, there has been a lot of other things going on in the insurance world recently and CLT hasn’t been pushed enough as a result. As such, there needs to be more education on it and in turn, there needs to be more buildings built from the material. At that point there will be more data to accumulate for actuaries to then figure out what the risk of the material is.
Do you get many clients coming to you with plans to build in timber?
Yes we do, but it’s mostly from the owner side. I’m based in the Bay Area and we recently had Google announce a $200 million CLT pilot project on its campus. More broadly, the company has announced a $7 billion investment into mass timber in the US. We’re also seeing a lot of universities across the United States using mass timber. If you look at the smarter companies and institutions across the country, then it’s clear the direction they are going in and it’s timber. So the demand is there, especially on the West Coast. Like in Britain, we have a huge housing crisis in California and the prefab ability of mass timber makes it an ideal solution.
To read the second part of this Q&A with Jake Concannon, please click here.
RIBA updates the 2030 Climate Challenge
Jess Hrivnak, Sustainable Development Adviser at RIBA, explains the changes that have been made to the 2030 Climate Challenge, in light of new performance data.
Why is the RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge important? The UK built environment is responsible for 40% of UK carbon emissions. Everyone within the construction industry’s supply chain (from designers to manufactures to contractors) of new and retrofit buildings needs to do their part to reduce carbon emissions to ensure that we can collectively put forward our best efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Originally launched in the autumn of 2019, only a few months after the Institute declared a climate and biodiversity crisis and the UK Government passed legislation for the UK to become a net zero emitter by 2050, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is a voluntary framework of performance targets for built environment projects. It builds on the momentum of the RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission and the RIBA’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It sets out a climate conscious trajectory for new build and major retrofit projects, providing ambitious but achievable forward-facing performance outcomes that have been developed in consultation with other professional UK construction bodies. The framework is built around three key criteria: operational energy, embodied carbon and (potable) water use that are to be achieved in occupied buildings. In doing so, unintended consequences of poor health and wellbeing must be avoided by maintaining the best practice health and wellbeing metrics that are presented in the guidance. Focussing on the three key metrics common to all buildings allows the 2030 Climate Challenge to robustly, yet simply, call all RIBA Chartered Practices to act now.
The relaunch of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge (Version 2 published 17th June 2021) sets out a refined set of these targets. The updated targets take progress in the industry over the past two years into account and are in line with the Future Homes Standard and future regulation. Targets for 2025 and 2030 are set against business-as-usual compliance approaches.
The updated targets encompass development in the industry’s knowledge base of performance data– particularly in the embodied carbon field. The refined embodied carbon targets reflect a considerable amount of work across several institutions (including LETI, UKGBC, IStructE, WLCN and the RIBA) over the past few months to align definitions, scopes, targets, and methodologies. This alignment ensures that, as a built environment sector, we speak with one voice.
One may ask why the change in numbers, especially when the embodied carbon figures presented in Version 2 of the Climate Challenge seem easier to those originally published. The reason for this is that embodied carbon benchmarks and data is a developing knowledge area within the construction sector. In addition, the initial (2019) version of the RIBA 2030 Challenge set out total embodied carbon (A1-A5, B1-B5, C1-C4) performance targets. The figures were not directly comparable to the upfront carbon targets published by LETI as they had different scopes. With the release of Version 2 of the RIBA 2030 Challenge the LETI and RIBA embodied carbon figures are aligned. (It is important however to note that whilst the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets are performance measures of realised in buildings completed in 2025 and 2030, LETI dates relate to the year of design.)
We recognise that there may need to be further refinement in the coming years as more detailed data and further work in sectoral contributions to carbon emissions in line with science-based targets is undertaken by the industry. But given the urgency for action, there is no time to lose. The next 9 years are critical, however 2030 is not the end of the road. The emissions reduction trajectory must decrease further until 2050. We must not wait for a magic bullet nor must we lose hope. Instead, as an industry we must focus on the immediacy of the coming years and take the steps necessary to meet the 2030 targets, and if that is not immediately possible to (as a minimum) design in accordance with the 2025 performance outcomes. This call to arms is part of the RIBA’s commitment to excellence and ethical practice. It is a rallying cry to promote and champion a shift in the industry towards outcome-based approaches to design, which requires placing greater emphasis on approaches that focus on tangible performance outcomes right from the project outset, even prior to briefing. Whilst the role of the architect is central to this focal shift, the role of the client and entire project delivery team is fundamental to enabling the process.
Although currently only RIBA Chartered Practices can sign up to the 2030 Climate Challenge, the targets are open source and available for everyone to use. The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge does not seek to replace or replicate a building environmental assessment and there is no associated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge certification procedure. Instead, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge presents a set of performance outcome targets for projects to aim towards. In fact, there are only has two stipulations of Signatories to the Challenge: the first is to attempt to achieve the targets. (There is no penalty or consequence for projects that miss the Challenge’s voluntary performance targets.) The second requirement is to submit anonymised project data to the RIBA. It is in this latter area where manufacturers and contractors can assist, providing and disclosing embodied carbon data to architects and project teams. Data disclosure and breakdowns are key to ensuring reporting is valid and comparable.
Timber will feature significantly in projects seeking to comply with the 2030 Climate Challenge targets and you can support your architectural teams by providing clear breakdowns of your structural systems and products’ embodied carbon cost. Furthermore, supporting the 2030 Climate Challenge may thus give you greater insight and clarity into your own environmental and carbon footprint and those of your products and systems you manufacture. Implementing and designing to the 2030 Climate Challenge targets demonstrates leadership ahead of business-as-usual construction and building management approaches. It also allows supply everyone involved to stay abreast of the mega trends of increased societal awareness and accountability and demonstrate responsibility in face of increased customer, consumer, staff and occupier driven expectations for brand credibility.
Join in with the Challenge, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose!
To download the updated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, click here
Here, Paul Brannen, CEI-Bois & Chair of the Timber Sector Group planning for COP 26, looks at Europe’s carbon capture and storage mechanism.
As a climate warning, it could hardly have been starker;
“I want to be clear. If we don’t clear this development fast enough, our children and grandchildren will fight wars over water and food.”
The clarity of European Union Vice President Timmerman’s words was both frightening and welcome. We really do need to pick up the pace if the EU and the UK are to stand a chance of both becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Consequently, the EU Commission’s Renovation Wave is spot on with its aim of making 195 million building units across Europe energy-efficient by 2050, but current deep renovation rates are running at less than 1% of the building stock per year.
The ‘easy wins’ are loft, wall and door insulation and the replacement of single glazed windows with double or triple glazed. However, if we are not careful these renovations could be carried out using fossil fuel based materials.
Alert to this danger, the Commission did flag up the need to minimise
“the [carbon] footprint of buildings,”
“the use of organic building materials that can store carbon, such as sustainably-sourced wood”.
Professor Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has pointed out what will happen if we fail to use organic materials.
“Often more harm than good is done, for example when buildings are insulated with toxic industrial foams whose production, use and disposal requires more energy than can be saved”.
Instead, he argues for us to
“reforest our planet and re-timber our cities,”
i.e. more sustainable wood in the built environment.
It is wood’s ability to store carbon, once the living tree has sequestered it, that makes wood such a valuable asset in tackling climate change and when combined with its substitution effect, these two attributes offset 20% of Europe’s annual CO2 emissions.
In conclusion, more sustainably-sourced wood use in the built environment could, as the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has stated, help turn our built environment from
“a carbon source into a carbon sink”.
The model for a sustainable future
The Government’s ambition to achieve Net Zero status by 2050 may leave many assuming that there is ample time to adjust our behaviours in order to make this a reality. However, the fact of the matter is that we must act now and pursue environmentally friendly processes at every opportunity to stand any chance of attaining this goal. Adopting and implementing a circular economy approach is one means of doing just that, as explained by Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association.
Before we can begin to discuss the circular economy, it is important to first understand the concept of a linear economy. For decades now, society at large has acted as a linear economy, following a ‘take, make and dispose’ pattern. In essence, raw materials are harvested from the earth, these materials are then processed and manufactured into products, and at the end of their life cycle they are thrown away by the consumer. For obvious reasons, this cannot be considered a sustainable model, as:
- The finite non-renewable resources within the earth are rapidly running low.
- Gathering and processing raw materials requires a vast amount of energy.
- An increasing number of landfill sites are required to store old and used products.
It should be clear then, that drastic action must be taken as we cannot continue in this manner.
A circular economy, unlike a linear economy, seeks to eliminate as much waste as possible following a product’s lifecycle. The model follows a cyclical approach. High percentages of recycled content and lesser amounts of raw materials are used to manufacture products and goods. Following their use by the consumer, these goods should be recycled almost entirely and used to manufacturer future products. If we look towards nature, no ‘life cycle’ will be found that demonstrates a linear economy, the human species is the only example to have adopted the approach. The critical environmental issues that we face today are the consequence of years of our own actions, acting as a linear economy.
However, by adopting a circular economy, we can counter each step of a linear economy system. Less raw materials will be needed to produce goods, the energy required in manufacturing will be decreased, and the resultant waste sent to land fill will diminish. We are now seeing companies beginning to adjust their processes to work in line with a circular economy approach, although, if we are really to tackle the environmental threats facing our planet, more must adopt change, and fast.
As we are all aware, the construction sector is a massive contributor to CO2 emissions and should therefore be making the utmost efforts to change this. Timber naturally fits as part of a circular economy, as it is the only truly renewable resource we possess for building purposes. Following its use, timber can of course be recycled. However, because in some instances timber is burnt following its use, some critics argue that it is more damaging than good – this is not true.
It is important that we are aware that for every tree harvested, five more are planted. Therefore, as those five trees grow, the carbon that they sequestrate more than makes up for the carbon produced through the burning of timber. Furthermore, the energy produced by burning timber is not wasted, as it is used to power our homes, schools, transportation, etc.
We believe that any hope for the construction sectors success in adopting a circular economy system lies in the use of timber.
It is very apparent that society cannot continue to follow a linear approach. The repercussions caused by decades of doing so are now being realised, with the environmental crisis we face today set only to get worse if we do not change. We believe that adopting a circular economy in how we manufacture new goods, deal with used products and – most importantly – build the places where we live, work and play, is a necessity for combatting the climate threat and achieving Net Zero status by 2050. We must act now.
For more information about the Structural Timber Association please visit www.structuraltimber.co.uk
In recent years, governments across the globe have taken steps to combat the greatest threat of our times: climate change. However, targets are at risk of not being met and the time left to act is rapidly running out. The Time for Timber campaign was founded with the ambition of promoting the use of structural timber, with the hope that its environmental benefits would finally be realised by the insurance, financial and construction sectors.
Unfortunately, misunderstandings regarding structural timber are still circulating, which is why the Time for Timber campaign has published a white paper aiming to change that. To discuss some content within the white paper, and why it is needed, here is Andrew Orriss from the Structural Timber Association (STA).
As we are all aware, the construction sector is responsible for more than 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This alarming figure demonstrates that, as an industry, more must be done. Regarding the UK, we believe that achieving Net Zero status by 2050 is possible but only if the construction industry embraces more widespread use of sustainable materials and modern methods of construction (MMC). Due to its numerous advantages, we will of course be championing timber.
Within the white paper we explain why increasing the use of timber in construction must be the choice for the future, considering the significant environmental, economic, health and well-being benefits if offers. In short, timber is a truly renewable, carbon-negative building material that is inexpensive and can also make a significant contribution to wellbeing of building occupants.
Historically, however, there has been a reluctance to back timber projects by some insurers, with the lack of information and understanding related to ‘fire risk’ playing a major role in this. Although, as the long-term impacts of climate change are more widely felt, insurers are slowly beginning to realise the value that structural timber possesses. Whilst we believe the progress being made is good, the constant stream of misinformation is hindering more insurance companies in engaging with timber projects. Therefore, we felt it necessary to bridge the gap between the untruths and the facts concerning structural timber.
The white paper sets out to address the most common concerns that insurers have. Making use of various pieces of research, the document demonstrates how this concern and others are unfounded. The Time for Timber campaign has a real desire to work alongside insurers moving forward. We hope that this white paper is a positive first step, and that it will be seen as an invaluable resource by insurance companies, that offers a credible source of factual information and research.
It is vital, now more than ever, that the timber industry and insurance sectors work together to combat climate change. The Time for Timber campaign is committed to helping insurers understand the facts regarding structural timber and we believe this white paper will prove to be a useful resource that hopefully marks the start of a combined effort to make a more sustainable low carbon world.
For more information and to download the white paper, please click here.
Recently, the UK government reaffirmed its commitment to building more homes, as well as working to reshape the nation’s economy. In this article, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association (STA) explains that whilst advancing this agenda, those involved in the process must also respect an existing commitment to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050. Andrew goes on to detail how recent publications, such as the ‘Government Response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report on the Long-term Delivery of Social and Affordable Rented Housing’, identify how both of these goals can be achieved more easily through a greater commitment to modern methods of construction (MMC).
In its new report, Homes England identifies the potential for MMC to be “significantly more productive than traditional building methods; allowing homes to be built more quickly, addressing labour and skills shortages and improving the quality, consistency and energy efficiency of newly built homes.” As an organisation at the forefront of promoting MMC amongst the sector, we have long recognised the potential of these significant benefits. In particular, we believe that timber frame and structural insulated panel (SIP) construction offer the most accessible options.
During the last few years, both MMC techniques have emerged as standout options in the housebuilding sector. The innovative building approaches enable the rapid construction of homes, whilst also delivering exceptional performance in terms of thermal and energy efficiency. Likewise, both techniques have strong environmental credentials, which makes them ideal in helping the UK to hit its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Currently, the construction sector contributes around 38% of Britain’s total carbon dioxide emissions, so making this change could have a big impact.
For example, thanks to its inherent airtight and highly insulated construction, SIPs buildings are able to significantly reduce energy usage within a home. When considered alongside the UK’s commitment to building 300,000 new homes per year, it’s easy to see how important this MMC could be in helping to reduce overall carbon consumption across the nation. Of course, a significant reduction in energy usage isn’t only beneficial for the broader environment, but will also help homeowners to reduce the money they spend each month on bills.
Similarly, timber frame construction also offers housebuilders and developers a simple way to build long-lasting, durable homes in a sustainable manner. For context, concrete is currently responsible for between four to eight per cent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, any new techniques that are able to reduce usage of the material must be seriously considered.
Another benefit of timber frame construction is that it offers an effective way to sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. During its life, timber consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This embodied carbon will remain stored in the timber, even when the material is processed for use within buildings. As more timber forests are planted to support the use of timber across industries, such as construction, more carbon is subsequently captured and removed from the atmosphere. As such, pushing for the further adoption of structural timber construction ranks amongst the most sustainable options available to the sector.
Of course, it’s still important for homes built via MMC to deliver in other areas, aside from their exceptional environmental performance. Thankfully, as the report from Homes England identifies, such solutions can also enable a more rapid construction process, which could prove invaluable as the nation looks to tackle its current housing shortage. Additionally, certain techniques, such as SIPS and timber frame construction are ideal in creating homes with excellent levels of thermal and energy efficiency. This outstanding performance is due to the volumes of insulation provided as part of the structure.
Right now, Homes England is monitoring the construction of around 1,800 developments across the country, via various means of MMC production. Once completed, the organisation will have long-term, in-depth and verifiable data regarding the different available methods. At the STA, we’re awaiting the findings with bated breath, but feel confident that those methods commonly adopted for housing by our members, most notably SPS and timber frame construction, will emerge as the standout choices. Until then, we will continue to support those promoting such techniques in the best ways we can and help the industry as it moves forward into a new era of building practices.
To read Homes England’s new report, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/homes-englands-mmc-research-study-takes-shape
To find out more about the Structural Timber Association please visit www.structuraltimber.co.uk
An opportunity missed
Despite concerted efforts from industry action groups and commentators to draw attention to shortcomings in the proposals, the Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard consultation has fallen woefully below that which is required to enact real change in the journey to Net Zero, argues Andrew Carpenter from the Structural Timber Association (STA).
First and foremost, the fact that embodied carbon is not mentioned once in the entire 114-page document, is a glaring omission that represents a significant missed opportunity to reduce the overall carbon consumption of the housebuilding industry. With the Government still insisting that it hopes to build 300,000 new homes each year, reducing the upfront carbon emissions generated by the materials manufacture of these projects would have a meaningful impact on the total carbon footprint.
Instead, the response focuses on building services and prioritises the use of low carbon energy sources. However, we firmly believe that this is a back-to-front approach, as operational CO2 emissions account for only a small portion of a home’s overall carbon cost. A much more logical tactic would be to shrink the overall carbon footprint, by reducing both the embodied carbon within the construction materials and the energy consumption in use, through significant building fabric improvements. After all, switching to low carbon energy sources is of little value to homeowners if they’re still required to pay extortionate sums for the same amount of ‘clean’ energy – building homes that are engineered to use less energy in the first place is a simpler way of lifting future generations out of fuel poverty.
What’s more, the move comes in spite of industry consensus towards an embodied carbon approach, as set out by the signatories of an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government. Orchestrated by ACAN (Architects! Climate Action Network), the letter calls for embodied carbon to be given due consideration, pointing to the significant contribution it will make to the carbon emissions of future homes.
Signed by more than 700 prominent members of the architectural community, it states: “The carbon emissions associated with a building’s use only make up a percentage of its total carbon footprint, with embodied carbon (the emissions associated with materials, construction and refurbishments) making up an ever greater share. Embodied carbon needs to be measured and declared as well. This is known as a ‘Whole Life Carbon’ approach to construction and should be applied to all construction projects to represent their true carbon cost.”
While it’s encouraging to see that the Government has taken steps to ensure new homes will no longer be reliant on fossil fuels and has listened to some of the feedback from industry – such as retaining the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES) – the lack of regulatory incentives for reducing embodied carbon has the potential to de-rail carbon reduction efforts, by masking the true cost of new housing developments from a CO2 perspective.
By encouraging wider use of lower carbon building materials – such as incentivising a timber-first approach – the Government could take advantage of the ‘low hanging fruit’ by reducing the overall carbon expenditure of new homes from the very outset. As well as being a renewable material, timber provides an effective carbon store, particularly when used on an industrial scale. This is because as trees grow, they trap and store carbon dioxide, removing it from the wider atmosphere – indeed, timber absorbs more carbon during its growth than is emitted during processing and installation.
It’s bewildering to us at the STA that, in the face of such industry agreement, the Government has not seized this opportunity to set the housebuilding sector firmly on the right trajectory to achieve Net Zero by 2050. That is why, in the light of the omissions from the Future Homes Standard, we emplore the Government to reconsider its stance.
We believe it’s more vital than ever to highlight the importance of embodied carbon and to demonstrate the value of using low-carbon, structural timber. What’s more, it’s crucial that the housebuilding industry recognises that it is not obliged to follow this outdated line of travel and that, as long as regulatory requirements are met, it is able to carve its own path towards delivering better quality and greener housing. After all, why wait until Government thinking catches up when timber solutions are ready now, offering a quicker, more reliable and more sustainable solution to the climate crisis?
To find out more about becoming a member of the STA or working with one of our accredited organisations, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk