Andrew Carpenter, CEO of the Structural Timber Association, explains how the use of timber in building construction can be beneficial for occupants and their well-being.
On average, we spend around 90% of our time indoors and there is a growing appreciation that the buildings we inhabit can have a significant impact on both our mental and physical health. The design and construction of the building can affect this in a number of ways from physical factors such as indoor air quality, acoustics and lighting to the psychological influences of the layout and materials used. Studies have shown that concentration levels in offices, learning and development in educational establishments, and even patient outcomes in healthcare buildings are all affected by our surroundings.
The use of timber in construction is growing due to the sustainability of the material as the only truly renewable building resource. and expanding its use throughout the building can have a number of health and well-being benefits.
Firstly, timber has been shown to reduce stress. A study by the University of British Columbia and FPInnovations found that the presence of wood surfaces in a room lowered sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation. This is the system responsible for physiological stress responses and is also intrinsically linked to blood pressure, digestion and healing.
Timber within buildings has also been shown to improve physical and mental wellbeing in other ways. A study commissioned by Forest and Wood Products Australia surveyed 1,000 Australian workers and found a correlation between the presence of wood and higher overall satisfaction and lower absenteeism levels, as well as improved concentration and productivity among employees.
Furthermore, timber offers better acoustic performance than other hard surfaces used in building design. Its ability to absorb sound prevents echoes and noise transmission through the building, creating a quieter and more peaceful environment.
Finally, given the link between timber and sustainability, the use of timber can have a positive influence on peoples’ perception of the buildings they inhabit. For example, people can feel good about living in a home constructed of natural materials. In a study conducted by the BRE, 62% of respondents saw climate change as an issue they should be concerned about and 96% said that they had already made changes to be more sustainable. Additionally, 43% said they would prefer to buy or rent a home that had a sustainability certification. In fact, approximately 1 in 5 were prepared to pay more for such a property.
The buildings we live, work and learn in represent a significant part of our daily environment and as such have an important role in our health and well-being. In addition to its well-documented structural and environmental benefits, timber can also help to create healthier places for people.
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/
WHEN DOES TIMBER MAKE SENSE?
Individuals can make a limited difference to the climate challenge with their daily choices. Yes, we can all do lots of green things in our lives – we can choose not to fly, drive electric cars and eat less meat – this is of course important, but in most instances the reality is that reducing professional emissions will have the biggest impact on achieving a low-carbon society.
As a structural engineer, I am personally responsible for managing huge masses of carbon dioxide. With the strike of a pen, I could add hundreds of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – or make significant savings. That is why it is so crucial that those of us who specify buildings recognise the enormous importance of choosing lower-carbon solutions where possible.
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 accountability and influence with regards to the nation’s climate change efforts.
Those who design buildings and the structural engineers who determine the frame type have a huge responsibility within the construction industry. Typically, a UK structural engineer’s professional carbon footprint is around 160 times their personal carbon footprint for scope 1 and 2 emissions.
While the industry is taking steps to develop more sustainable working practices, there is a corresponding growth in demand for more sustainable development options from employers and investors and the industry needs to respond to that demand.
Enhanced public awareness of climate change, including a growing understanding of the economic risks it poses, has caused environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations to rise up corporate agendas. This has resulted in a shift in perception, where ESG is no longer considered a risk to be managed, but rather is a significant driver that is informing company strategy for long-term growth. Traditional barriers to the adoption of more sustainable development, including perceived higher costs and a general lack of awareness, are being outweighed by the increasing importance of ESG in investment and procurement decisions.
As we know, when trees grow they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere locking it away as carbon in the cells of the tree. The reporting of this carbon sequestration is often a source of debate with potential confusion and inconsistency. This often stems around when the carbon sequestration is considered. To help demystify this life cycle analysis can be used which breaks a product’s life cycle in stages. The standard used for this, BS EN 15978, can be broadly broken down into the following modules.
Module A dominates the life cycle emissions, particularly as we see decarbonisation in the operational aspects found in module B. Steel and concrete require a high-energy production process, but energy consumption for timber is also significant due to the harvesting, drying and sawing. Confusion with timber occurs as the amount of carbon stored within wood can be greater than the module A emissions and in some reporting is quoted as immediately carbon negative. This approach would mean that using timber excessively in a building is better for the environment – this is obviously not the case.
There are positives to sequestering atmospheric carbon within long-term timber projects as they act as a carbon sink which is beneficial to the climate. For example, over a 50-year harvest cycle in a managed forest a new tree(s), that has replaced the harvested tree, grows large and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere thereby achieving a carbon negative position. After 60 years of the building’s use, carbon is potentially released back into the atmosphere as the building is either sent to a landfill or burnt in a biomass boiler.
However, in 60 years, it could be appropriate to consider that carbon capture technologies will mean that no further carbon is emitted at the end of the life of the building. Consequently, the timber building remains carbon negative due to the carbon sink of the replacement tree(s) – steel or concrete cannot do this. It should also be noted that an efficient timber design, one which has reasonable grids and optimised design, typically has a lower embodied carbon than either steel or concrete buildings.
Accounting for sequestered carbon is a significantly debated subject, and there is much confusion and inconsistency surrounding it. Reporting sequestration alongside the reported figures of module A or a negative emission can generate the belief that using timber in excess is beneficial to the atmosphere. However when designed efficiently timber frames can be a much better option than steel or concrete frames.
At Ramboll we present our carbon figures in a clear and transparent manner so that clients can make informed decisions about the carbon impact of their projects.
At this point in time, timber currently can offer a lower carbon solution than either concrete or steel with timber having the opportunity to be carbon negative over a 50-year cycle.
If we specify and construct more timber buildings, this will buy us time against climate change to allow technologies to develop to an appropriate level until we can potentially utilise permanent carbon storage technologies or the expected lowering of embodied carbon of concrete and steel in the future.
Currently, timber is an incredibly effective and sustainable building material. However, it is equally important to understand that there isn’t an infinite supply, so attention must be paid to ethical forestry and timber sourcing to safeguard the future of timber as a material.
We currently have the understanding and tools to rationalise our design decisions with respect to the embodied carbon and, for now, timber buildings certainly form part of the solution in addressing the climate crisis.
For more information please visit www.ramboll.com
Here Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, looks at where the timber construction sector currently stands and where it could go next.
The use of timber in construction has received increased attention in recent months and years. As the issue of sustainability and climate change has become more acute, we are seeing many architects, contractors, housebuilders and clients looking at how the use of low carbon materials can be expanded. Timber has been at the forefront because it is a versatile material that has a long history of use in construction.
In fact, feedback from our members shows a marked trend towards the use of timber frame, with private developers in particular investing heavily in timber-based offsite construction. Several key housebuilders have acquired businesses in their own supply chain to secure manufacturing capabilities. For example, in 2018 Countryside acquired the Westframe timber frame manufacturing facility and Barratt Homes purchased Oregon Timber Frame the following year. In Scotland, Miller Homes acquired Walker Timber at Bo’ness to expand its business. Persimmon Homes also has its own timber frame manufacturing arm, Space4.
We are also seeing an increase in demand for timber solutions within the affordable and social homes market. For example, L&Q Homes has formed a strategic partnership with Stuart Milne Timber Systems to increase its delivery of timber frame homes. Furthermore, the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme, launched in 2017, provides funding to support low carbon affordable housing. The most recent round of investment saw £35 million pledged to deliver 400 factory built homes, with many being built using timber frame.
While some parts of the world, including Scotland, already have a long-established and very successful heritage of building in timber frame, England is still very much reliant on masonry. Therefore, for timber systems to become used more widely, the first hurdle will be overcoming the culture within housebuilding that focuses on ‘traditional methods’ as well as the hesitancy around alternative methods.
A big part of this will be raising awareness about the benefits of timber, particularly with regard to its ability to contribute to Net Zero Carbon, which is becoming increasingly urgent. While traditional building methods are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050, timber offers the opportunity to achieve net zero now. What’s more, with the use of timber now enshrined in the Government’s Build Back Greener strategy, more widespread adoption of structural timber seems inevitable.
Embodied carbon emissions account for up to 75% of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan. This can be reduced significantly using the right low carbon materials, and timber products have the lowest embodied carbon of any mainstream building material. In fact, every cubic metre of timber used in construction has absorbed 1 tonne of carbon dioxide, which will be stored for the lifetime of the product. Increasing the use of timber in construction, is the quickest and most effective way for the UK to deliver on its economic, employment, housing and climate targets without delay.
In addition to housebuilding, one of the biggest potential growth areas is the public sector. Engineered timber solutions such as CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) have huge application potential for public buildings. In 2019, the Government announced the Health Infrastructure Plan, which includes a commitment to building 40 new hospitals by 2030 and a focus on Net Zero, digitalisation and Modern Methods of Construction. Under the plan, schemes must include 70% offsite construction, which leans heavily towards timber as the primary building material, in order to secure funding.
We are also seeing timber increasingly used as a solution to limitations on space and the pressure on brownfield sites in urban areas. Many developers are looking to maximise residential capacity by adding extra storeys onto existing buildings, particularly in heavily populated areas. Thanks to its lower weight and high strength, engineered timber is an ideal material for achieving this without needing to make significant reinforcements to the building’s foundations.
Offsite manufactured engineered timber also has further advantages for reducing the impact on the local environment. One of the key benefits of offsite construction is reducing the number of vehicles going to a site. The use of timber enhances this further as the lower weight compared with other materials allows more to be safely transported on each vehicle. Lowering the overall weight of the building also means smaller foundations and less excavated material that needs to be removed.
With so much potential and a wide range of opportunities to expand the use of timber, the coming years will be an exciting time in the sector. However, it is important for the Government to continue to support the use of timber, modern methods of construction and the development of low carbon innovations.
At the STA we are actively working to promote the benefits of timber to the wider industry, overcome the barriers to its widespread adoption and are committed to helping our members take advantage of the push for low carbon construction.
For more information about using structural timber or working with an STA member, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk
Local authorities throughout the UK are facing great difficulty as they attempt to rapidly increase their housing stock and deliver affordable homes, whilst also meeting environmental targets. Here, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the STA, discusses how timber frame construction provides the perfect solution, offering a sustainable, low-carbon method that can be delivered at pace.
The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to reducing its carbon emissions by 80%, relative to levels recorded in 1990. In 2019, following advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the Government increased its target to a 100% reduction by 2050, or ‘Net Zero by 2050’. Whilst this ambition to improve the UK’s environmental impact is a welcome one, many are finding this target difficult to meet. At the time of writing, 74% of councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency. There is no single definition for what constitutes a ‘climate emergency’, most are proclaimed at a point in which a council believes it is no longer on track to meet Government climate targets, such as Net Zero by 2050. One issue that councils are particularly struggling to overcome due to environmental targets, is meeting the growing demand for housing.
The UK’s housing crisis is nothing new, in 2015 the Government set out an aim to build 300,000 homes a year to combat this. However, this target has not been met and recent estimations suggest that 345,000 new homes are now required to be built each year to overcome the backlog. The crisis is exacerbated further by the ever-increasing need for affordable housing. In the 2017 UK Housing Review Briefing Paper, the issue of affordability was described as “neglected” for both private and social housing. Today, local authorities are finding it difficult to balance producing homes at an affordable rate whilst also meeting environmental targets.
Many had hoped the Government’s Future Homes Standard document, would offer some guidance to house builders and local authorities on how best to overcome the numerous obstacles they have to navigate. Whilst some valid recommendations were made, structural timber and the wealth of environmental benefits it possesses were entirely overlooked. We believe that timber frame technology in particular can provide the solution to the sustainability, cost and demand issues facing local authorities.
Environmentally, the advantages of building with structural timber are vast. Firstly, when compared to its competitors, timber is the stand-out performer, possessing the lowest embodied carbon for any building material. Secondly, as long as forests are properly managed and maintained, timber provides us with the only truly renewable building resource. Thirdly, as they grow, trees sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere – meaning that throughout its lifecycle, timber has a carbon negative impact. Lastly, timber offers exceptional energy efficiency performance, greatly reducing household emissions – a positive for both the environment and the pocket of the homeowner. Aside from its environmentally beneficial properties, prefabricated timber frame technology could prove to be a great assistance to meeting the demand for affordable housing.
On average, using timber frame systems can reduce the construction time by eight weeks, when compared to traditional masonry methods. This is largely because timber frame is manufactured offsite and delivered as prefabricated panels that can be erected within days. Additionally, producing timber frame systems offsite massively improves reliability. Firstly, as they are produced in controlled factory environments, quality control is assured, resulting in fewer errors during assembly. Secondly, the fabrication of timber frame systems in a factory is not weather dependant, meaning build programmes become far more predictable. This speed of construction and greater reliability help to keep project costs low. With less labour required and fewer issues regarding quality, timber frame systems provide local authorities with the means to build more homes, at a lower cost.
Local councils are fighting a hard battle as they attempt to balance the demand for affordable homes while also meeting environmental targets. If they are to succeed, any attempts to solve this issue must include more widespread adoption of timber frame systems.
To find out more about timber frame, visit our website: https://www.structuraltimber.co.uk/timber-systems/timber-frame
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