The developer’s view

Mario Ledermann is an internationally experienced technical leader at Lendlease, a global organisation that advocates the increased use of timber in construction.

Here is his thinking as to why now is the time for timber.

Why are you so passionate about the use of timber?

I think it really help us in dealing with a number of challenges we have as a society. Clearly the net zero agenda is something that is affecting us all. It is not just certain companies in certain industries it is everyone, all the way to individuals. I believe timber can really help us in driving a better world, in the context of reducing emissions and climate change, but also it has a number of benefits that could help us in dealing with some of the main challenges the construction industry faces, such as productivity. Being one of them least productive industries in 20 years, we haven’t improved productivity much and we need to grow the number of buildings we build since the population is growing. Timber enables offsite manufacturing, advanced manufacturing automation, which in turn will help us in becoming more productive. In the same context, dealing with quality and safety is something that timber would enable as well. So, for me, it is a combination of a number of things; climate change, but also dealing with some of the main challenges the construction industry faces.

What is Lendlease’s experience with the use of timber?

Lendlease is an international real estate and property group. We combine the disciplines of investment, development and construction and we operate in four different regions and 17 different gateway cities. Our experience with engineered timber started in 2010 when we looked at developing what, at the time, was the tallest residential building built out of engineered timber in the world – Forté apartments in Melbourne, Australia. Since then, we have built more than 20 buildings around the world using engineered timber: buildings like this one, the IQL Pavilion in the middle of London.

Why is Lendlease such as a positive advocate for the use of timber?

Sustainability is at the heart of Lendlease’s purpose and has been since day one. The creation of social environmental value is very important to us. More recently, in 2020, alongside our commitments to be a 1.5 degree aligned company, we set very ambitious targets from the perspective of the reduction of embodied carbon and carbon emissions in general. We are set to be net zero by 2025 on the scope one and two. That means the fuel we burn and the power we use will be at absolute zero by 2040. That is scope one, two and three, with no offsets. We believe these targets, alongside the nature of our global business put us in a leading position to decarbonise the construction sector. However, we know we cannot do this alone and we don’t have all the answers yet. We need to collaborate. We need to collaborate in decarbonising carbon intensive materials like concrete and steel, but we also need to work in enabling and accelerating the use of timber.

What is the typical usage of structural timber in one of your schemes?

We aim to use materials where they add the most value. In the context of the use of timber, since we work in multi-storey construction, the type of wood products we use is mainly engineered timber. Materials like cross laminated timber or glulam and a mix or a combination of them is mainly what we’ve been using around the world. As an example, the tallest building we have built to date is a building in Brisbane, 25 King Street, which is a commercial building where the use of timber was mainly in the form of cross laminated timber floors and glulam columns and beams. We also use different combinations in other parts of the world, like in the US, we have built a number of hospitality buildings where the main use of the timber being cross laminated timber in floors and walls.

Is the use of timber client driven?

Our clients and investors are increasingly interested in how we are dealing with whole life carbon and embodied carbon, so we need to consider the use of materials when developing the building. So, for example, we’ve introduced the use of low carbon steel, as well as materials with an increased recyclable content like aluminium, but we are also enabling the use of low carbon technologies that exist today like timber; that is what we do in terms of materials. Buildings like this one have a reduced amount of embodied carbon of more than 40% and that is something that clearly attracts investors and clients.

Where do you see timber fitting in with the government’s Build Back Better and Build Back Greener priorities?

When you look at the Build Back Better priorities and the talk of levelling up the whole of the UK, it supports the net zero transition, but also supports the vision of a Global Britain. Timber in construction provides us with an opportunity to substitute carbon intensive materials like concrete and steel for a lower carbon solution – today. It also enables innovation in construction and property to the use of kit of parts, or product-based approach, to design and construction into advanced manufacturing and automation.

How do you see the future for structural timber in the UK?

I believe the future is bright for timber. I think the reduction of emissions globally will still be the main driver for timber being enabled into construction. In time all the other benefits associated with productivity, quality and safety will become visible as well. So, I think there is a bright future. However, I think it is very important that we have an industry that collaborates and deals with these challenges around unfamiliarity with the technology, but also the development of the right guidance to ensure that the needs of, not just society, but key value-chain stakeholders, like developers, insurers and investors, are met.

Philip Callow is the founder of Mass Timber Risk Consulting Ltd (MTRC), a company to looking to accelerate the use of mass timber in the built environment.

Here is his thinking as to why now is the time for timber.

 

You founded your company MTRC ‘as a direct response to the frustrations our clients were experiencing around the insurability and lack of knowledge regards to the use of mass timber in our built environment.’ Can you outline the frustrations as a construction insurance broker and underwriter?

The main one is, as a as a broker, you turn to insurers to find the answers. Those answers can be what do you need to know, what you want to know, what should you know and what what availability of cover is out there? I think that one of the problems that I saw was that no one had an answer to that and, for the most part, if there was an answer, it was always going to be negative. So, because of those two years of being an underwriter, specifically looking about the insurability of mass timber buildings, I realised that there was a better way. That way was just stripping everything back down to the bare minimum and saying OK – who has a role to play? What is that role? What information can they bring to the table and putting that together in a way that leads to an equitable outcome for all parties.

 

Who are you trying to work with to achieve this?

Predominantly my work is with the developers and to a lesser extent with the insurers and brokers. Insurance brokers and underwriters need to know the details of the project, so that they can price it so that the broker can argue on the insurance on their client’s behalf, for the best possible deal, but ultimately to come to a fair, equitable landing on what that policy should be. You can’t do that unless you have the information. What we have noticed, certainly as an underwriter researching this, was that the information you need to price that risk is not forthcoming if you go about things in a traditional way. The normal way that you would build a concrete and steel building doesn’t work for mass timber. The assurances, the certainties, or perhaps the questions that need answering for an underwriter to price the risk correctly and to give a level of cover that is relevant to that project – that information needs to happen much sooner. There is a theme that will be coming out about early engagement and I say it is about early engagement and the quality of that engagement. That part is information and part of it is how you present it. Put simply, that refers to breaking down of how we do things. It is how we used to do things when I first started my career. We had a hard market and it would take many months, including international travel in some instances, to speak to underwriters around the globe and get them on board with a major infrastructure project. Like, for example, Crossrail. They are big, the values are huge, the engineering is a challenge, but there’s no difference for mass timber building, the engineering is a challenge. The safety of that project is a challenge which is why you need to break it back down, get the information presented at the right time to the underwriters to get an equitable outcome.

 

Which stakeholder community, in your opinion, is the biggest barrier to the adoption of mass timber and how do you manage this?

Without a shadow of doubt, it is the government – we are trying to manage that. There is some excellent lobbying work I started with The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) and is now continuing with Built by Nature. I know that an excellent group of stakeholders across insurance, across architecture, across engineerin, fire risk engineering is working towards lobbying the government to press for support. I think it would be unfair to say that the government is not willing, I think they are willing. We saw that from the outcome of COP26 and we’ve seen that from the strategy going forward. But I think they could do a lot more. I think that that is the biggest barrier.

 

How do the insurance brokers that you work with view the use of mass timber?  

I think they all want it to come, like most responsible members of society. I think the better ones look at it as a challenge, just like I mentioned how Crossrail would have been a major challenge from an insurance broking perspective. Any broker that enjoys what they do loves the challenge of taking something, which on the face of it looks difficult – close to impossible – and using the information available and helping the clients and the stakeholders in that project delivery team present that information in the right way. It is something you must create. That information that they haven’t been asked before and they need to provide it. I think they really do view that as a great challenge. However, I think they are rightly, incredibly frustrated. The response to UK insurers is as negative as it is. We work in a global insurance market here in London and, unfortunately and fortunately, what happens around the world is felt in London and therefore the UK insurance market. I know brokers that are being approached by clients who are multinational who are finding no problems, or limited problems, in securing extra insurance in North America, or Europe with ‘insurer X’, but when the broker approaches ‘insurer X’ in London for a UK project it’s an immediate ‘No’. I think everyone can see a frustration with that, but if you’re in the market, if you are practising broker, it is incredibly frustrating because there is no message to your client that will help saying that ‘insurer X’ won’t do it, but your client is saying ‘well that’s rubbish they’re doing it for me in North America’. That is madness and I think there is something that the insurance community, particularly the carriers really need to look at, because it is unfair that the elements, the physics, the chemistry around the topic of mass timber is the same in North America and Europe, as it is in the UK. That is something that I think is up there with government strategy around this is the second largest barrier to this.

 

What do insurers need to know to help them feel secure in insuring structural timber construction projects?

Data is key here and it almost sounds obvious, but insurance is based on knowing how something performs. With mass timber we simply don’t have the volume, whether it be in North America or Europe, or anywhere else, that gives insurers the comfort to not have to delve much deeper into the risk dynamics and the parameters of a particular project. That makes it very hard, because fundamentally that lack of data means a lack of projects which means it’s not paying your bills, it’s not meeting your targets, it’s not going to change your business in any given year. So, then you must put a lot more effort into looking at that risk and underwriting that risk, when you’re struggling to make a profit doing the traditional type builds and across both property and construction. So, it is a very challenging landscape for an insurer just doing the day job. So, inputting something that has no data that is obviously a volatile material, in so far as we know timber burns, producing a great strain on underwriters to be able to look at that. In their defence, they do need that data and it isn’t there. Testing is one area that people like to look at. There is a lot of work going on around that, the Structural Timber Association are going to be the conduit for the results and open source format, but one can test for a particular outcome and I think that that is where there is a little bit of a chicken and egg – we need more of these things being built, we need to prove that certain typology, or methodology, or system when employed, is safe. But that takes time. Perhaps we don’t have that time now, not if we’re going to meet our net zero aims.

 

What should the construction industry be doing in relation to these insurers?

Everywhere you go, when you start talking to the people who design and build these projects, you can tell there is brilliance and excellence. No one sets off in the morning to go. “I’m going to mess up today, I’m not going to do my job to the best of its ability.” When you start scratching beneath the surface, the wealth of knowledge and expertise from people who are prepared to learn, who want to learn, which I would like to think is the vast majority, the engineering and architectural community; what they’re learning and what they know is fantastic. What they are not doing is sharing that knowledge. Not from a “I don’t want to share” perspective, but with insurers and with their brokers. Every time I’ve asked the question as to how do you do this, they’ve got the answer and every time I’ve said, “why aren’t you telling?” – “Well, no one’s asked!” I accept that it is up to an insurer or broker to ask, but perhaps that’s where you need to guide them, you know more than anyone. Your experience on how to rectify issues, your experience on how to control moisture, your experience on how to rectify damage, this is all golden information that needs to be shared with insurers. Every time we have asked, when it’s gone wrong, give us examples of how it has been fixed, the walls come up. I totally get confidentiality, but we have got to be all in this together. Every constituent part needs to play their bit to move this forward. I think the construction industry needs to get better at telling us how good they are. We are very quick to judge and say how bad they are, but there are all sorts of things that they are doing that can demonstrate their quality. I think that it is important, but patience is required, which has not been something that they have needed in the past when it comes to purchasing insurance. That goes back to the idea of early engagement. Just selling their story and being prepared to be open and being able to say, “we don’t know that and the fact that we know we don’t know means we’re going to find out.” That’s super reassuring from an underwriter’s perspective because that gives you comfort that you are working with people who are going to solve a problem and solve in a logical and right way.

 

You make it sound so easy…

It is very easy. I think that is why this is really got under my skin and several other people’s skins, is because it is easy, but we’ve all got to do something a little bit different and that is the difficult part. It is like getting up early to go to the gym, when you know you are overweight – you know what to do, you are just maybe not going to go and do it! Until you get used to going and doing it, which is hard at the beginning, then it becomes second nature and then it becomes easier. Then you can maintain that food throughout the life of whatever you’re doing. That is why I think several of us, in this area, are so frustrated because we can see that just little tweaks to how you go about doing things and everyone will go on that same journey with you. There will be hiccups, there will be losses, we know that. The insurance market has no problem with paying losses, but they have massive problems with paying losses when you have not done your due diligence, when an underwriter has not done what he could have been reasonably expected to have done to be prudent. That is where things need to happen differently and that is where developers, architects, engineers need to really start opening up and say that we will take you on that journey, because we will learn as well.

 

Does the UK’s attitude to mass timber differ from that of the rest of the world? If so, how and why?

Yes, I think it does. I think that Grenfell really changed the UK’s perception. It is such a shame because what was fraudulent workmanship that led to what should have been a robust engineered solution, if it had been erected correctly, to prevent fire spread. I think that sadly and ironically, given it was man-made materials that led to the fire spreading, it massively pushed back and for the right reasons, that we must ensure these buildings are safe. Any building is safe, but surely if we can ensure quality of workmanship, we can avoid these issues. If we can ensure testing and performance is adequately measured and that when it comes to mass timber, we can look to other other geographies for that. It is a real shame that we are in this situation, particularly given our need to reduce our CO2 emissions, I think that is the biggest issue we have here. We need to look at the supply chain as well. We don’t have a robust timber supply chain in the UK to match our mass timber ambitions. We look to Europe and Scandinavia for that. They have plenty and we have supply chain issues in general now, but I am sure that we all know they will pass. That doesn’t necessarily help, give that we haven’t got that home grown nature. I should caveat that in the US, they have an unbelievably well-funded timber lobby group, that they are used to building out of, what we would call, frame in the insurance world, which is really four-by-two stick built. They are also used to them burning down, a lot, certainly during construction, which doesn’t help, by the way, that there are significant losses every six to 12 months in the US market, but they have volume and data. There is enough premium. The market knows that these things happen, so again, we have the Grenfell issue, which is entirely right to due process and understanding that would prevent it from happening. We have a supply issue. Whereas, conversely, go to Scotland and Wales there’s a lot of timber being used, a lot more than I think a lot of people realise. Then we have the wider money that somewhere like the US or Scandinavia will use, whether it be government incentives, or whether it be just the commercial sector.

 

In your time in the industry has the market improved in the adoption of mass timber?

Yes, in the UK absolutely. When I started the underwriting journey, a couple of years ago, on mass timber research we found that from a risk perspective there were some excellent work already done. The prime one is the 16-steps to fire safety and that’s a direct result of events and learnings. It is a great example of how we learn from our mistakes. That’s meant that, from a construction perspective, it was a long journey for us to launch the UK’s first mass timber construction insurance facility. Sadly, that no longer exists because there was no volume, we had no-one asking us for quotes, apart from a handful, so how much interest is out there? One of the issues was that long standing relationships and markets relationships are unequal. Brokers would go and do certain things, but they would get insurance on construction. I would say to anyone now, you can get a construction insurance policy. Not ‘no problem’, you need to do things in a slightly different way and you need to be more open with information, but it is absolutely available and I think two to three years ago it really wasn’t. The remaining issue is with property insurance and I think we have not seen a big change. That, I think, is the most frustrating because we need to temper that frustration and a lot of developers and owners will say well ‘OK, but I can get an excellent construction policy now but in three to four year’s time what will my property insurance policy be now?’ Quite frankly they will not get an answer and any answer will be negative. Now, we need to take a step back there, if you’re a developer and say, well I can’t get a price for my car insurance or my household insurance for three years and about why are you any different?  No underwriter will give you that price because they’re not allowed to because the market changes for good and for bad in those intervening years and therefore the price will change. So, no-one is going to commit to that, so we must start looking at what is the commercial driver? We all have a part to play here and maybe the developers, the owners, have a part to play…what’s your worst case scenario? Can we afford that? Can a potential buyer of this property afford that? If the answer is yes, well let’s crack on because then it comes back to data and then it comes back to experience and then it comes back to, we’ve answered those questions, we’ve got more of these buildings and the price will come down. That is inevitable. We are further forward, but I think certainly, from an insurance on the property space, we need to do a lot more work. We need insurers to be a lot braver with qualified data – they can do that and we need developers and owners to be braver; to perhaps not expect insurers to just take their balance sheet issues, to look at more inventive, more effective and inventive ways of managing those balance sheet issues, so that they’re not just all risk transferred to insurers who will not take on what you yourself would not take on. Strip those away and then you will find there is an extra relationship that you can build… but I don’t think we are there yet. I have a feeling that the tea leaves are indicating that we’re at the cusp of that and I think more than ever the conversation is now being had. We have some thought leadership events coming up being hosted in the Lloyds building which is great! Not just a room. They are providing more than that, they’re now really looking at this to be something that they need to get more involved in, as a thought leader. It doesn’t mean that they will push insurers to do something. That is not how they operate. That is not how the market operates, but it is the analogy of leading a horse to water. They are just building the trough and that is what we all need to do. Much more of that is happening now.

 

How confident are you that we will see the increased use of mass timber in the UK?

I am confident. I think the insurance market will always adapt and change. If you are of the belief that itis the insurance market that is the problem, then be confident that will change. My view is that it is government and the developers, the owners that need to take more responsibility. We’ve mentioned that the government’s policy is maybe not fast, but it is certainly changing towards the use of mass timber and we have mentioned Grenfell and the effect of that. With CO2 emissions, net zero, COP26 having been in this country, I think we’re going in the right direction. Finally, the developers – they are seeing that they have got more of a role to play here. Not just in saying, “you’ve got four weeks to get me an insurance policy please”. That doesn’t work anymore and taking people on that journey. They are now understanding that. They are also putting their money where their mouth is with regards to exploring alternative risk transfer mechanisms. That is really encouraging because the people who wanted to buy the insurance policies are exploring ways of being brave enough to help with that insurance themselves, which really exposes their balance sheets. There are some great little bodies of work going on, there is some wonderful coordination being done by a handful of organisations with regards to thought leadership in this space and obviously the Built by Nature accelerator fund which is relatively new and is doing great work in advancing the use of timber in the built environment. I am hopeful just like with all those little factors and little aspects, all doing their part that everyone else is starting to understand that they have a part to play in this as well, whether it be developers, structural engineers, fire risk engineers, architects, contractors, specialist and non-specialist contractors and then ultimately the insurers and the insurance brokers and advancing all of our knowledge. I am very confident that we will see widespread adoption of this, certainly in the next decade. I will put my hand up and say I think by 2030 that we will have very few of the problems that we have today. We have all learnt about CO2 and the effects on the environment, whether you are a believer in that or not, let’s just think about using sustainable products in our built environment. It makes more sense to use a tree that we can grow than to use resources out of the ground that we can’t replace. That seems good business sense to me. Even if you’re the most ardent climate change sceptic, it is good business to use something and sell it for a profit that you can grow back. That will happen. If we come back to data being a major issue, by 2030 will have more data, simple. By that stage, with ESG, when it comes to the corporate sense, from both insurers and investors and a need to be much more engaged and to do actionable, auditable things around ESG and EU taxonomy, which we are fully a part of within the UK, there is a lot coming, which means that everyone should be jumping on this bandwagon and everyone should be doing their part to learn, to understand what we’re talking about here; to understand the risk, understand how to mitigate it and be able to provide an equitable solution… but everyone has a part to play and that’s that goes back full circle to why I am doing this.

Andrew Waugh, Founder and Director at Waugh Thistleton Architects, was part of a recent visit by Construction Minister Lee Rowley MP’s to The Black & White Building. Designed by Waugh Thistleton and owned by The Office Group (TOG), the fully engineered timber building providing premium flexible working space, will be the tallest timber office structure in London.  Andrew discusses why the visit was so crucial to the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI), which is an umbrella organisation representing the UK’s timber supply chain, and with which Waugh Thistleton is in partnership.

Government legislation that promotes the use of timber throughout the construction industry is required in order for the UK to meet its net-zero commitments. However, due to the number of interwoven alliances and systems within the legislation, it’s simply not as easy as taking building materials out and replacing them with another, which poses a big problem. There are also more speculative parts of the industry that present challenges, such as the nervousness and concern surrounding insurance and pricing.

The minister’s visit to The Black & White Building was crucial because it was proof of concept. We were able to demonstrate that timber constructions are cost equivalent to a concrete building, faster to construct, ensure better working conditions on-site and produce a building with a higher financial value. Additionally, landfill waste is minimised and there’s an 80% reduction in site deliveries, which all contribute to more sustainable construction practices. We were able to show the minster what a low carbon construction can look like.

A lot of work around sustainability over the past 20 years has been centred on layering additional systems such as triple glazing, the addition of more insulation, building management systems and mechanical heat recovery, but what we really should be focusing on is making things simpler. Timber buildings allow us to find the beauty in simplicity, and to design sufficiently for the purpose of the building and not beyond, which is something that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report explores in more detail along with a global assessment of climate change mitigation progress, along with potential approaches to the overall issue.

It is a fact that timber is currently the only viable alternative to steel and concrete, additionally, it is an existing technology with a sophisticated supply chain. We must reduce our reliance on steel and concrete, ideally by reducing the use of both materials by 50% in the next 8 years, and replacing them with timber. As timber is a uniquely replenishable structural building material for high-density urban construction, we have the opportunity to demonstrate a clear alternative way of doing things, by using an existing system to prompt the evolution of construction.

These changes must happen immediately, and in terms of demand and availability, timber is incredibly well-suited to adopt this in a short time span. In Europe, more than half of the trees felled are burned, so we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities with timber, and the timber manufacturing industry is growing exponentially. Governments in Europe and North America are changing their changing building codes and adapting legislation to promote the use of structural timber; the UK is unique only in its failure to do so with the same haste.

It was incredibly important for the minister to visit The Black & White Building to get a good look at what the other countries are getting so excited about, which is a technology that was innovated in the UK and exported around the world by UK firms. The time is upon us to catch up and for the UK Government to take the same action that many others have already taken.

To learn more about The Black & White Building, and other Waugh Thistleton sustainable projects, visit: https://waughthistleton.com/practice/

To read about the Construction Minister’s visit to The Black & White Building, visit: https://www.structuraltimber.co.uk/news/structural-timber-news/uk-construction-minister-visits-ground-breaking-low-carbon-timber-building-in-london/

Using the generic term ‘wood’ is analogous to using the word ‘food’. Wood covers an estimated global diversity of over 20,000 woody species of plant. A few thousand of these are commercially used and these are as diverse as the cultures that use them. Wherever we look, the use of wood is deeply rooted in human history and indeed in everything we do today.

When I think of ‘wood’ I think of an ingredient that can be transformed from a renewable material resource into a gourmet feast of colour, texture, and pattern or used simply as a mass-produced component that we order from the builders’ merchant. The designs we dream up sometimes rely on individual trees where we want something special, but we are most likely to rely on standard sawn or Planed All Round Timber (PAR) sizes harvested and converted from forest trees and readily connectable using metal fixings like a Meccano set. Whichever way we use wood we must only specify sustainably sourced timber from schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) to help protect them as a regenerative resource. Thankfully most timber suppliers now endorse these schemes and provide a range of timber products with trusted certification.

There is no other material like wood and it is so easy to use once you have familiarized yourself with its properties and available sizes, which do vary considerably from softwood to hardwood and across the available species. As an architect, this is what makes designing, specifying, making joinery and furniture and especially working with those skilled in the art of woodwork in all its forms, so rewarding.

The versatility of the material is as diverse as its applications. The relative lightness of this material is balanced by its strength and for some species, the ratio of these is better than steel. When exposed as a finish there are exquisite tactile qualities to choose from as well as a softness in light which is so appealing in exposed CLT construction. There are now multi-occupancy buildings where CLT has been used as a wall or ceiling finish – even the stairs and furniture can be made from this material. These advantages of using the wood stem from the connections to the forest that is then recreated itself in the home.

Cutting edge zero-carbon houses need to incorporate as much wood as possible to sequester carbon. This is important as it is the most practical way to reduce or even produce a negative carbon footprint. But the mindset for sustainable thinking starts with choosing the right materials. Foundations can be minimised using light timber framing and by making the most of the engineered timber products available which now play a significant role in MMC. I also see more interest in systems that are hybrid in nature and incorporate steel connections and consider thermal mass to assist with mitigating overheating now that the new Approved Document O must be met. Meeting the overall building physics strategy is essential to futureproof the asset so that it is insurable, mortgageable and comfortable to live in.

Moving up the scale, multi-occupancy mid-rise apartments can be constructed in timber frames or CLT but architects and engineers must understand the material and its possibilities and limitations. A decade ago, when low U-values became central to developers’ sustainability ambitions and Approved Document L of the Building Regulations cranked up demands for lower U-values, the Structural Timber Association (STA) began to develop new high performance-tested wall, floor and roof types to address this. These now form pattern books available for download on their website.

Architects’ demands on timber frame-based building systems must now change to align with the requirements of the Building Safety Bill. Design teams are now expected to demonstrate that they have the relevant experience and expertise to design buildings and are expected to use comprehensively tested systems and to pass Gateway 2. No home should be built unless it is constructed safely and competently and, of course, can be maintained as such thereafter. This is foremost for the protection of life enshrined in the Approved Documents or Building Regulations but also – and of rising importance for insurers – is the robustness of fire protection for the building as an asset.

For structural timber or any other MMC system for that matter, the complete assembly of parts and systems forming a multi-occupancy building must meet the performance requirements for fire, airtightness and acoustic performance as a whole. This must be done within the context of changing guidance like the impending changes to BS EN 9991, the forthcoming updates to Approved Documents B and L of the Building Regulations, updated Future Homes Standards and other guidance which is generally becoming more prescriptive.

The insurance industry has raised concerns about the protection of timber structures from fire and water ingress and the STA has done much to put the timber frame industry at the forefront of addressing these issues. However, it is worth reflecting that the principles of fire safety also apply to other MMC construction systems like those that use cold or hot rolled steel framing or those built as volumetric units. Architects are very reliant on the technical know-how and expertise of manufacturers who design and test their own systems or on fire engineering specialists who form part of the design team. Encouragingly the STA has pooled much of the test information from timber frame manufacturers into one place on their website to add to their own.

We cannot live without healthy forests and perhaps many of us cannot live without wood in our lives, whether that be a timber-framed house or everyday furniture. We must make sure that these homes are constructed to the very highest technical standards and as buildings that must also play a big part in the fight against climate change.

As the Government works to ‘build back greener’, the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI) in partnership with Waugh-Thistleton Architects have hosted the UK Construction Minister Lee Rowley, on a site visit to the Black and White building.

The Minister was taken for a tour of the exemplary fully engineered timber building, which is owned by The Office Group (TOG), the premium flexible workspace provider with a platform of more than 50 buildings across the UK and Germany and will be the tallest timber office structure in London when complete later this year.

Boasting a powerful sustainable agenda, the hybrid structure comprising beech Laminated Veneer Lumbar (LVL) frame with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has resulted in 37% less embodied carbon than an equivalent structure built using steel or concrete, demonstrating how a shift towards the use of biogenic materials in construction could help the industry to significantly reduce its impact on the environment.

Following its release of the Build Back Greener Strategy Document, the Government has signalled a clear intent to increase the use of sustainable materials, such as timber, within construction as it seeks to meet its Net Zero obligations.

Key to the success of this endeavour, is increasing the awareness and knowledge of structural timber. As such, the CTI is actively engaging with the Government and other stakeholders via the Timber in Construction working group, set up to develop a policy roadmap to help the Government deliver on its environmental ambitions.

Speaking on the visit is Andrew Carpenter, Director at the Confederation of Timber Industries: “Independent bodies such as the Climate Change Committee have already said that increasing the use of timber within construction is crucial to achieving net zero status by 2050, because of the low-carbon benefits of these forms of construction.

“The sustainable benefits of timber as a form of carbon capture and storage are widely known, and today has been about illustrating how these benefits are already being delivered safely across the UK, as well as globally, to create a new wave of low-carbon construction.

“In partnership with the UK Government via the Timber in Construction Working Group, and together with members of Parliament through our APPG for the Timber Industries, we are helping bring forwards the benefits of greater use of structural timber.”

Construction Minister Lee Rowley commented: “It was fantastic to visit the Black and White building to see how this innovative approach to building, harnessing engineered timber, is helping to drive sustainability in the construction sector.

“The site’s construction is an excellent example of the benefits timber buildings can bring and I look forward to seeing it when it is complete and in operation.”

Andrew Waugh, Founder and Director at Waugh Thistleton Architects, commented: “It’s great to see the Government taking an interest in engineered timber construction. We need Government leadership and systemic support for the use of regenerative, low carbon construction materials if we are to have any chance of reducing the impact of our industry on the planet.”

Charlie Green, co-Founder and co-CEO of TOG commented: “The Black and White Building is set to be Central London’s tallest mass timber office building. Alongside Waugh Thistleton, we have worked to reduce embodied carbon as much as possible, delivering a building that represents what future workspaces should be.

“It has never been more important to develop techniques and approaches that deliver buildings for a better world. Innovative construction processes and sustainable materials, like those employed here, will form a central part of the sector’s journey to net zero over the coming years.

“We’re really pleased that Lee Rowley, MP, visited the site today to see this evolution in practice and look forward to further engagement.”

For more information on the Confederation of Timber Industries, please visit:  www.cti-timber.org.

For more information on the Waugh-Thistleton, please visit https://waughthistleton.com/

Timber industry to make its case at COP26

In our latest Time for Timber podcast, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, sat down with Paul Brannen, Director Public Affairs CEI-Bois & EOS, to discuss the most important event happening in 2021, COP26.

What is COP26?

The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, will see the leaders of the world converge to decide how best to tackle the global crisis of climate change. For these leaders, whom have supreme decision-making capabilities, finding and agreeing upon the necessary solutions to combat this threat at COP26 are crucial to turning the tides back in our favour. Meetings between leaders are frequent but once every four years, one nation hosts a larger conference spanning two weeks. For COP26, this responsibility falls to the UK, with Glasgow hosting the event commencing on November 1st and finishing on November 12th. Since the previous major Conference of the Parties, hosted by France in 2016, the targets set have not been met, making it ever the more vital that solutions are found in Glasgow.

What is the Timber industry hoping to achieve at COP26?

Regarding sources of carbon emissions, the construction sector is responsible for anywhere between 40 and 50 percent. During their conversation, Paul Brannen highlights that it is therefore the duty of the construction industry to reduce that figure, whilst expressing his belief that timber provides the key means in which to do this. Paul discusses what he calls the three S’s, those being sequestrate, store and substitute. As a tree grows, carbon within the atmosphere is captured within the tree itself, this process is known as carbon sequestration. Once a tree is felled and processed into building materials, the sequestered carbon remains stored within the wood. The production of building materials such as cement and steel are particularly high emitters of carbon, by substituting them with timber, the environmental impact of construction is immediately lessened. These are the core messages that Paul wishes to present to the politicians attending COP26. As he states, utilising timber within construction is low hanging fruit.

How are those campaigning for timber planning to grab the attention?

As Paul explains in his conversation with Andrew, COP events are a political conference and a trade exhibition hybrid. An allocated area of the event known as the ‘green zone’ offers organisations and associations an opportunity to literally set up stall, and promote themselves to politicians, journalists and general visitors. Collectively the timber industry, at a global level, have placed their bid to the British Government, expressing their desire for a space at COP26. However, as Paul details, the timber industry has big plans on how they intend to showcase what they have to offer. Currently, plans for a purpose-built timber pavilion are being put together by a well-known British architect. The aim is to incorporate various engineered timber products within its design, to demonstrate the vast number of applications that timber possesses as a building material. The belief is that this visually stunning centrepiece will draw politicians and visitors in, so that they can be educated and informed about the structural solution to climate change that is timber.

As Paul draws his input to the conversation with Andrew to a close, he says: “We have to remind ourselves that everyday hundreds of people come to this issue completely new, and they’re the people we need to think about first and foremost”. COP26 presents a fantastic opportunity for the timber industry to showcase, to the leaders of the world, the vast environmental benefits it has to offer. Why wait, the time for timber is now. To hear the entirety of Paul’s and Andrew’s discussion about COP26, you can find the full podcast here.

A wise man once said that

a lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

Unfortunately, that statement has never been more relevant than it is today. From politics to pop culture, the world has become well accustomed with the perils of fake news and the ease with which it can spread. Sadly, the same thing is happening within the construction sector, where structural timber suffers from a number of harmful misconceptions about its practical suitability. In this blog, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, looks to examine some of these misunderstandings and dispel any falsehoods that could be holding the material back from more wide-scale adoption.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is unsustainable and hurts the Amazon rainforest!

THE TRUTH:

Structural timber solutions used in the British construction sector are almost entirely sourced from well-managed forests in either Scandinavia, or in the UK itself. As such, any concern about potential damage to the Amazon Rainforest is severely misplaced. In fact, when sourced responsibly, timber is undoubtedly one of the most environmentally friendly materials currently available. Not only does it provide an effective carbon sink, but it’s entirely renewable and can be continually grown year-round.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is dangerous because it burns!

THE TRUTH:

Whilst it’s right to say that timber burns, it’s wrong to say that this alone makes the building material inherently dangerous. As with many things in construction, the safety of structural timber solutions relies on installers ensuring that proper precautions and installation practices are being followed. In well-designed buildings, structural timber solutions are enclosed with non-combustible products to reduce the likelihood of fire spread. Ultimately, good design helps to mitigate most of the associated risk and can be achieved by employing installers who work to competency schemes, such as the STA Assure scheme.

The same applies to timber battens, which are often used in cavity walls to prevent the spread of fire in the event of a blaze. When fixed in accordance with well-established structural timber protocols, such solutions are able to provide long-lasting, durable performance, which both home and business owners can rely on. To this end, when installed correctly, timber in a cavity isn’t exposed to moisture and as such, will not warp over time and create gaps that could ultimately render the battens useless.

THE CLAIM:

I can’t get a mortgage or an insurance agreement for a timber frame house!

THE TRUTH:

Once again, this statement is simply incorrect. However, it’s fair to say that the insurance industry has responded with caution to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and that, whilst Grenfell was a concrete structure, timber frame buildings have been unfairly caught in the crosshairs during this process. Yet insurance options for the material still exist. What’s more, new test data is helping to better inform those creating insurance policies about the material and how it performs in a blaze, with more and more insurance firms starting to adjust their positions.

Similarly, some mortgage providers have been incorrectly influenced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a form entitled EWS-1. Originally, the form was designed to address combustible cladding materials in tall buildings but has been wrongly interpreted as applying to all buildings and all materials. Fortunately, the form is currently being reviewed and its scope should soon be curtailed. Despite all this, there still remains plenty of providers who are more than happy to offer mortgage products for timber frame structures at no premium.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is not as strong as brick and can rot without you knowing!

THE TRUTH:

A common misconception amongst individuals with minimal structural timber knowledge is that the material is used to build entire homes. In fact, most timber frame houses are clad in brick. As such, concerns about the relative strength of brick and structural timber are normally misguided and not applicable in practice. With that said, there’s now also decades of evidence to support the notion that timber frame homes can be constructed without the need for brick and still go on to achieve no movement issues.

It’s a similar story when it comes to concerns around rotting. In practice, the risk of rot in structural timber solutions is wholly dependent on the quality of installation. Suffering from rot is certainly not a risk inherent to structural timber solutions and can happen to most commonly used building materials. As always, it’s essential to only work with a recognised, high-quality structural timber installer, such as those included on the STA Assure Scheme. In doing so, those looking to use the material can benefit from years of reliable performance.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is too expensive to build and then often costs more to heat!

THE TRUTH:

At the STA, we tend to hear this one a lot and aren’t really sure why people continue to believe it. However, for conclusive evidence, we can look to the first independent construction cost comparison report on timber and masonry for affordable housing, conducted in 2018 by leading cost management organisation, Rider Levett Bucknall. The results were clear, timber frame construction is more economical than masonry construction and the build programme is shorter.

It’s a similar story when assessing how much it costs to heat a structural timber home. Some people think timber has no thermal mass but it does, and it comes from the plasterboard. Additionally, it’s wrong to believe that materials with low thermal mass cause heat loss. In fact, heat loss is affected by insulation, which provides the resistance needed to prevent it. What’s more, buildings that actually do have high thermal mass levels, such as masonry structures, tend to cost more to heat as the fabric of the building absorbs heat in the early stages impacting on comfort levels.

THE CLAIM:

There’s nobody in my region who knows how to build with timber!

THE TRUTH:

Nobody is in a better position to tell you this isn’t true than the STA! We know more than anyone that timber frame installers exist all around the country and that there’s no regional variation with regard to competency or quality. Whether it’s using one of our member organisations, or those recommended through our STA Assure Scheme, individuals wanting to use structural timber frame construction can rest easy in the knowledge that reliable and affordable installers are waiting and ready to work with them.

For more information, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk/members  

As an organic, natural material, wood can breathe and maintain a comfortable and healthy indoor climate.

The use of timber in construction is known to have numerous positive effects on human health, proven in various studies. People working in environments with more wood are observed to show lowered heartbeat rates, a decreased perception of stress, decreased blood pressure and increased interaction. A closer connection to such a natural material can only help to promote a feeling of warmth, security and home and an overall sense of wellbeing. In creating safe environments, employees and an increasing number of studies point to workplaces that are more productive and have lower rates of absenteeism and sickness.

The UK government has now recognised the significant benefits of trees and tree planting as part of its fight against climate change.

Specifically, the government has announced plans to accelerate tree planting across Britain, as well as plans to improve the management of existing trees and woodlands. The England Tree Strategy aims to increase tree planting to 30,000 hectares per year across the UK by 2025. Thanks to this commitment, the nation will soon have a ready-made carbon sink, as well as an infinitely replenishable supply of green and sustainable building materials. Better still, this tree planting effort is being matched across the rest of Europe, where in managed forests, five trees are planted for every one that’s harvested.

Ultimately, the more demand that is generated for the use of timber in buildings, the more trees will be planted. This could lead to large scale reforestation of the planet, which is the only viable way of halting global warming.

Timber as part of the circular economy; the safest and most effective carbon store.

Currently, the construction industry represents around 10% of total UK carbon emissions and directly contributes to a further 47%. As a result, the industry finds itself in a position of great responsibility and influence with regards to the nation’s climate change efforts.

As timber trees grow, they naturally absorb carbon, which continues to be stored when the material is transformed into structural timber products. Timber absorbs and stores more carbon than it emits during processing and installation. These engineered solutions act as an effective carbon store when used as part of a building. When the building has reached the end of its use, this stored carbon can either be re-used as fuel, or will naturally filter back into the soil. By comparison, the use of concrete and steel within construction leads to considerably more energy and carbon usage. To this end, a report published by Chatham House (Making Concrete Change: June 2018) show that cement is the source of 4-8% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. Conversely, more carbon dioxide is absorbed and stored within timber products than is emitted during its harvesting process, manufacturing and transportation combined.

In fact, when used instead of other building materials, a single cubic metre of timber will save around 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. With such strong green credentials, it’s clear to see why so many organisations are embracing timber. Not only does the material provide strength and aesthetic beauty, but offers an effective solution in battling climate change. In fact, boroughs like Hackney in East London are now demanding a ‘timber first’ policy when it comes to building specifications. Similarly, the French government recently announced new sustainability legislation to help make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. The new law, which becomes enforceable in 2022, will mandate that all new public buildings in France are built from at least 50% timber, or other natural materials.