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

Renovation Wood

Here, Paul Brannen, CEI-Bois & Chair of the Timber Sector Group planning for COP 26, looks at Europe’s carbon capture and storage mechanism.

As a climate warning, it could hardly have been starker;

“I want to be clear. If we don’t clear this development fast enough, our children and grandchildren will fight wars over water and food.”

The clarity of European Union Vice President Timmerman’s words was both frightening and welcome. We really do need to pick up the pace if the EU and the UK are to stand a chance of both becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Consequently, the EU Commission’s Renovation Wave is spot on with its aim of making 195 million building units across Europe energy-efficient by 2050, but current deep renovation rates are running at less than 1% of the building stock per year.

The ‘easy wins’ are loft, wall and door insulation and the replacement of single glazed windows with double or triple glazed. However, if we are not careful these renovations could be carried out using fossil fuel based materials.

Alert to this danger, the Commission did flag up the need to minimise

“the [carbon] footprint of buildings,”

through

“the use of organic building materials that can store carbon, such as sustainably-sourced wood”.

Professor Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has pointed out what will happen if we fail to use organic materials.

“Often more harm than good is done, for example when buildings are insulated with toxic industrial foams whose production, use and disposal requires more energy than can be saved”.

Instead, he argues for us to

“reforest our planet and re-timber our cities,”

i.e. more sustainable wood in the built environment.

It is wood’s ability to store carbon, once the living tree has sequestered it, that makes wood such a valuable asset in tackling climate change and when combined with its substitution effect, these two attributes offset 20% of Europe’s annual CO2 emissions.

In conclusion, more sustainably-sourced wood use in the built environment could, as the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has stated, help turn our built environment from

“a carbon source into a carbon sink”.

The model for a sustainable future

The Government’s ambition to achieve Net Zero status by 2050 may leave many assuming that there is ample time to adjust our behaviours in order to make this a reality. However, the fact of the matter is that we must act now and pursue environmentally friendly processes at every opportunity to stand any chance of attaining this goal. Adopting and implementing a circular economy approach is one means of doing just that, as explained by Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association.

Before we can begin to discuss the circular economy, it is important to first understand the concept of a linear economy. For decades now, society at large has acted as a linear economy, following a ‘take, make and dispose’ pattern. In essence, raw materials are harvested from the earth, these materials are then processed and manufactured into products, and at the end of their life cycle they are thrown away by the consumer. For obvious reasons, this cannot be considered a sustainable model, as:

  • The finite non-renewable resources within the earth are rapidly running low.
  • Gathering and processing raw materials requires a vast amount of energy.
  • An increasing number of landfill sites are required to store old and used products.

It should be clear then, that drastic action must be taken as we cannot continue in this manner.

A circular economy, unlike a linear economy, seeks to eliminate as much waste as possible following a product’s lifecycle. The model follows a cyclical approach. High percentages of recycled content and lesser amounts of raw materials are used to manufacture products and goods. Following their use by the consumer, these goods should be recycled almost entirely and used to manufacturer future products. If we look towards nature, no ‘life cycle’ will be found that demonstrates a linear economy, the human species is the only example to have adopted the approach. The critical environmental issues that we face today are the consequence of years of our own actions, acting as a linear economy.

However, by adopting a circular economy, we can counter each step of a linear economy system. Less raw materials will be needed to produce goods, the energy required in manufacturing will be decreased, and the resultant waste sent to land fill will diminish. We are now seeing companies beginning to adjust their processes to work in line with a circular economy approach, although, if we are really to tackle the environmental threats facing our planet, more must adopt change, and fast.

As we are all aware, the construction sector is a massive contributor to CO2 emissions and should therefore be making the utmost efforts to change this. Timber naturally fits as part of a circular economy, as it is the only truly renewable resource we possess for building purposes. Following its use, timber can of course be recycled. However, because in some instances timber is burnt following its use, some critics argue that it is more damaging than good – this is not true.

It is important that we are aware that for every tree harvested, five more are planted. Therefore, as those five trees grow, the carbon that they sequestrate more than makes up for the carbon produced through the burning of timber. Furthermore, the energy produced by burning timber is not wasted, as it is used to power our homes, schools, transportation, etc.

We believe that any hope for the construction sectors success in adopting a circular economy system lies in the use of timber.

It is very apparent that society cannot continue to follow a linear approach. The repercussions caused by decades of doing so are now being realised, with the environmental crisis we face today set only to get worse if we do not change. We believe that adopting a circular economy in how we manufacture new goods, deal with used products and – most importantly – build the places where we live, work and play, is a necessity for combatting the climate threat and achieving Net Zero status by 2050. We must act now.

For more information about the Structural Timber Association please visit www.structuraltimber.co.uk

In recent years, governments across the globe have taken steps to combat the greatest threat of our times: climate change. However, targets are at risk of not being met and the time left to act is rapidly running out. The Time for Timber campaign was founded with the ambition of promoting the use of structural timber, with the hope that its environmental benefits would finally be realised by the insurance, financial and construction sectors.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings regarding structural timber are still circulating, which is why the Time for Timber campaign has published a white paper aiming to change that. To discuss some content within the white paper, and why it is needed, here is Andrew Orriss from the Structural Timber Association (STA).

As we are all aware, the construction sector is responsible for more than 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This alarming figure demonstrates that, as an industry, more must be done. Regarding the UK, we believe that achieving Net Zero status by 2050 is possible but only if the construction industry embraces more widespread use of sustainable materials and modern methods of construction (MMC). Due to its numerous advantages, we will of course be championing timber.

Within the white paper we explain why increasing the use of timber in construction must be the choice for the future, considering the significant environmental, economic, health and well-being benefits if offers. In short, timber is a truly renewable, carbon-negative building material that is inexpensive and can also make a significant contribution to wellbeing of building occupants.

Historically, however, there has been a reluctance to back timber projects by some insurers, with the lack of information and understanding related to ‘fire risk’ playing a major role in this. Although, as the long-term impacts of climate change are more widely felt, insurers are slowly beginning to realise the value that structural timber possesses. Whilst we believe the progress being made is good, the constant stream of misinformation is hindering more insurance companies in engaging with timber projects. Therefore, we felt it necessary to bridge the gap between the untruths and the facts concerning structural timber.

The white paper sets out to address the most common concerns that insurers have.  Making use of various pieces of research, the document demonstrates how this concern and others are unfounded. The Time for Timber campaign has a real desire to work alongside insurers moving forward. We hope that this white paper is a positive first step, and that it will be seen as an invaluable resource by insurance companies, that offers a credible source of factual information and research.

It is vital, now more than ever, that the timber industry and insurance sectors work together to combat climate change. The Time for Timber campaign is committed to helping insurers understand the facts regarding structural timber and we believe this white paper will prove to be a useful resource that hopefully marks the start of a combined effort to make a more sustainable low carbon world.

For more information and to download the white paper, please click here.

Recently, the UK government reaffirmed its commitment to building more homes, as well as working to reshape the nation’s economy. In this article, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association (STA) explains that whilst advancing this agenda, those involved in the process must also respect an existing commitment to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050. Andrew goes on to detail how recent publications, such as the ‘Government Response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report on the Long-term Delivery of Social and Affordable Rented Housing’, identify how both of these goals can be achieved more easily through a greater commitment to modern methods of construction (MMC).

In its new report, Homes England identifies the potential for MMC to be “significantly more productive than traditional building methods; allowing homes to be built more quickly, addressing labour and skills shortages and improving the quality, consistency and energy efficiency of newly built homes.” As an organisation at the forefront of promoting MMC amongst the sector, we have long recognised the potential of these significant benefits. In particular, we believe that timber frame and structural insulated panel (SIP) construction offer the most accessible options.

During the last few years, both MMC techniques have emerged as standout options in the housebuilding sector. The innovative building approaches enable the rapid construction of homes, whilst also delivering exceptional performance in terms of thermal and energy efficiency. Likewise, both techniques have strong environmental credentials, which makes them ideal in helping the UK to hit its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Currently, the construction sector contributes around 38% of Britain’s total carbon dioxide emissions, so making this change could have a big impact.

For example, thanks to its inherent airtight and highly insulated construction, SIPs buildings are able to significantly reduce energy usage within a home. When considered alongside the UK’s commitment to building 300,000 new homes per year, it’s easy to see how important this MMC could be in helping to reduce overall carbon consumption across the nation. Of course, a significant reduction in energy usage isn’t only beneficial for the broader environment, but will also help homeowners to reduce the money they spend each month on bills.

Similarly, timber frame construction also offers housebuilders and developers a simple way to build long-lasting, durable homes in a sustainable manner. For context, concrete is currently responsible for between four to eight per cent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, any new techniques that are able to reduce usage of the material must be seriously considered.

Another benefit of timber frame construction is that it offers an effective way to sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. During its life, timber consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This embodied carbon will remain stored in the timber, even when the material is processed for use within buildings. As more timber forests are planted to support the use of timber across industries, such as construction, more carbon is subsequently captured and removed from the atmosphere. As such, pushing for the further adoption of structural timber construction ranks amongst the most sustainable options available to the sector.

Of course, it’s still important for homes built via MMC to deliver in other areas, aside from their exceptional environmental performance. Thankfully, as the report from Homes England identifies, such solutions can also enable a more rapid construction process, which could prove invaluable as the nation looks to tackle its current housing shortage. Additionally, certain techniques, such as SIPS and timber frame construction are ideal in creating homes with excellent levels of thermal and energy efficiency. This outstanding performance is due to the volumes of insulation provided as part of the structure.

Right now, Homes England is monitoring the construction of around 1,800 developments across the country, via various means of MMC production. Once completed, the organisation will have long-term, in-depth and verifiable data regarding the different available methods. At the STA, we’re awaiting the findings with bated breath, but feel confident that those methods commonly adopted for housing by our members, most notably SPS and timber frame construction, will emerge as the standout choices. Until then, we will continue to support those promoting such techniques in the best ways we can and help the industry as it moves forward into a new era of building practices.

To read Homes England’s new report, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/homes-englands-mmc-research-study-takes-shape

To find out more about the Structural Timber Association please visit www.structuraltimber.co.uk

An opportunity missed

Despite concerted efforts from industry action groups and commentators to draw attention to shortcomings in the proposals, the Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard consultation has fallen woefully below that which is required to enact real change in the journey to Net Zero, argues Andrew Carpenter from the Structural Timber Association (STA).

First and foremost, the fact that embodied carbon is not mentioned once in the entire 114-page document, is a glaring omission that represents a significant missed opportunity to reduce the overall carbon consumption of the housebuilding industry. With the Government still insisting that it hopes to build 300,000 new homes each year, reducing the upfront carbon emissions generated by the materials manufacture of these projects would have a meaningful impact on the total carbon footprint.

Instead, the response focuses on building services and prioritises the use of low carbon energy sources. However, we firmly believe that this is a back-to-front approach, as operational CO2 emissions account for only a small portion of a home’s overall carbon cost. A much more logical tactic would be to shrink the overall carbon footprint, by reducing both the embodied carbon within the construction materials and the energy consumption in use, through significant building fabric improvements. After all, switching to low carbon energy sources is of little value to homeowners if they’re still required to pay extortionate sums for the same amount of ‘clean’ energy – building homes that are engineered to use less energy in the first place is a simpler way of lifting future generations out of fuel poverty.

What’s more, the move comes in spite of industry consensus towards an embodied carbon approach, as set out by the signatories of an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government. Orchestrated by ACAN (Architects! Climate Action Network), the letter calls for embodied carbon to be given due consideration, pointing to the significant contribution it will make to the carbon emissions of future homes.

Signed by more than 700 prominent members of the architectural community, it states: “The carbon emissions associated with a building’s use only make up a percentage of its total carbon footprint, with embodied carbon (the emissions associated with materials, construction and refurbishments) making up an ever greater share. Embodied carbon needs to be measured and declared as well. This is known as a ‘Whole Life Carbon’ approach to construction and should be applied to all construction projects to represent their true carbon cost.”

While it’s encouraging to see that the Government has taken steps to ensure new homes will no longer be reliant on fossil fuels and has listened to some of the feedback from industry – such as retaining the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES) – the lack of regulatory incentives for reducing embodied carbon has the potential to de-rail carbon reduction efforts, by masking the true cost of new housing developments from a CO2 perspective.

By encouraging wider use of lower carbon building materials – such as incentivising a timber-first approach – the Government could take advantage of the ‘low hanging fruit’ by reducing the overall carbon expenditure of new homes from the very outset. As well as being a renewable material, timber provides an effective carbon store, particularly when used on an industrial scale. This is because as trees grow, they trap and store carbon dioxide, removing it from the wider atmosphere – indeed, timber absorbs more carbon during its growth than is emitted during processing and installation.

It’s bewildering to us at the STA that, in the face of such industry agreement, the Government has not seized this opportunity to set the housebuilding sector firmly on the right trajectory to achieve Net Zero by 2050. That is why, in the light of the omissions from the Future Homes Standard, we emplore the Government to reconsider its stance.

We believe it’s more vital than ever to highlight the importance of embodied carbon and to demonstrate the value of using low-carbon, structural timber. What’s more, it’s crucial that the housebuilding industry recognises that it is not obliged to follow this outdated line of travel and that, as long as regulatory requirements are met, it is able to carve its own path towards delivering better quality and greener housing. After all, why wait until Government thinking catches up when timber solutions are ready now, offering a quicker, more reliable and more sustainable solution to the climate crisis?

To find out more about becoming a member of the STA or working with one of our accredited organisations, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk

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.

The Structural Timber Association has recently published an insurance industry guide to mass timber in the UK. The purpose of this paper is to provide the reader with sufficient information to better understand the use of timber in construction from a risk management perspective.

This document has been broken down into six main sections: Management of structural timber projects, Risk management, Compliance, Structural timber and the built environment, Building Safety Bill 2020, STA technical document library. We’ll be covering each topic in turn on this website.

6. STA technical document library

The STA strive to provide the most up-to-date information and technical guidance and our online library contains over 140 documents including product papers, advice notes and technical bulletins.

This library contains a wealth of information on Building Regulations and best practice principles. It is a valuable resource which can assist architects, engineers and clients who are considering specifying structural timber for projects or provide technical support during installation on site.

Published by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Plan of Work is split into several key project stages, which provides a shared framework for design and construction that offers both a process map and a management tool. Download the full plan here.

A blueprint to improve competence for those working on higher-risk buildings, the work was initiated by the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s review Building a Safer Future. Download full document here.

STA INSURER RESOURCES

A section of the STA website created to service the specific needs of the insurance industry, concerning structural timber systems. Insurers can download guidance and technical document here.

STA FIRE SAFETY RESEARCH DOCUMENTS

Access to the STA’s fire test research and cavity barrier/fire stopping best-practice documentation here.

The Structural Timber Association’s insurance industry guide to mass timber in the UK can be downloaded here.

The Structural Timber Association has recently published an insurance industry guide to mass timber in the UK. The purpose of this paper is to provide the reader with sufficient information to better understand the use of timber in construction from a risk management perspective.

This document has been broken down into six main sections: Management of structural timber projects, Risk management, Compliance, Structural timber and the built environment, Building Safety Bill 2020, STA technical document library. We’ll be covering each topic in turn on this website.

5. Building Safety Bill 2020

The Building Safety Bill is a new piece of UK Government legislation aimed at reforming the regulations surrounding the safety of high-rise buildings in the UK. A major part of the UK Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is currently being scrutinised in draft form, but is expected to be brought to Parliament and be passed into legislation early 2021.

Extracted from the Building Safety Bill, the following statement makes clear the need for the construction supply chain to be able to demonstrate competency. STA Assure is at the heart of the delivery of quality structural timber systems.

Clause 6: Facilitating improvement in competence of industry and building inspectors

EFFECT

160 Clause 6 states that the Building Safety Regulator must provide assistance and encouragement to persons in the built environment industry and to registered building inspectors to facilitate improvement of competence of organisations and individuals in the industry, or members of the profession.

BACKGROUND

161 This is a new provision. The independent review recognised competence as an area where improvement was needed across the built environment sector.

A working example of this clause is provided in the Bill’s accompanying explanatory notes:

Example: Functions in relation to industry competence

Under this duty the Building Safety Regulator may undertake activities such as setting the strategic direction of the competence committee (see Clause 10) to increase competence within the built environment industry, carrying out research and analysis, convening working groups, developing a communications strategy and other activities which support this duty.

For example, the Building Safety Regulator may use the insights it gains into the competence levels within the built environment industry to focus the Committee’s activities on areas where additional work is most needed and can have the most impact.

The Building Safety Regulator can also develop and implement a communications plan with the industry competence committee to encourage industry’s use of the competence frameworks and to highlight the legal requirements regarding competence.

The Building Safety Regulator may work with the competence committee to share its insights from reviewing Gateway two applications containing evidence of the competence of the Principal Contractor and Principal Designer, to improve the guidance to industry.

The Structural Timber Association’s insurance industry guide to mass timber in the UK can be downloaded 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