The increased use of timber can only be a positive in that it provides for a better built environment for generations to come by pushing towards a net zero economy and allows for future proofing of projects throughout their lifecycle.
From enabling a circular economy, to contributing over £8.5 billion to the financial system and subsequent employment opportunities, through to providing a carbon sink and enhanced health and wellbeing benefits and beyond, timber needs to be at the heart of construction. The increased use of timber in construction will help improve the way we live, beyond the current dilemmas of the pandemic, a recovering economy and the looming climate crisis.
Timber offers a timeless, stable solution for construction. From its earliest use in cathedrals, churches, manor houses, barns and farms and family dwellings to the more immediate future where short-life parts of a building can be changed. A timber construction’s total lifespan can be extended, to suit the flexible way we will be living in the future. In fact, many of the schemes that have been shortlisted in the Home of 2030 Government initiative, are centred around the use of timber, as a sustainable, scalable, carbon neutral material that is adaptable for offsite and modern methods of construction and that it is a flexible, re-usable material.
In addition to using timber as part of the structure of a building, it can also provide benefits beyond its structural integrity, as timber offers improved thermal insulation and acoustic performance. In particular the thermal performance of any building is key at present, as achieving net zero needs to take into account the energy usage required to heat and cool buildings. The Government’s Future Homes consultation launched in October 2019 outlined changes to Parts F and L of the Building Regulations, which govern energy efficiency and ventilation, meaning that thermal performance requirements are likely to become increasingly tighter.
With this increasing focus on efficiency, the use of timber frame construction can offer external walls with high thermal insulation for a relatively slender thickness. More recently, the timber-frame industry has moved from using 90mm to 140mm external wall studs. This increase provides additional space for installing insulation. In addition, the use of reflective breather membranes are used to effectively block infrared radiation, which enhances the thermal performance of the airspace, and consequently increases the overall U-value of the construction.
Well-insulated, airtight timber frame buildings work well in summer, keeping daytime heat out – an important consideration in a country that is experiencing year-on-year temperature increases. Traditional masonry buildings have a thermal mass which sees them absorb heat through the daytime. On the contrary, lightweight timber structures do no absorb heat well. This means that timber buildings don’t contribute to the build-up of heat to the excessive and uncomfortable night-time temperatures many people experienced in 2020, with tropical nights on the rise with Britain experiencing 16 evenings above 20 degrees, as masonry walls released their stored-up daytime heat. In the winter months, timber frame buildings are quick to respond to heat. The high thermal mass properties of materials like concrete and bricks mean that a lot of energy is required to change their temperatures. Without this heavy energy absorbing internal structure to heat up first, occupants in timber frame buildings benefit from a fast heating response, while benefiting from low heating bills too.
Timber as a construction material goes beyond the structural provisions of mass timber, as it is adaptable and provides a quicker, quieter and safer construction for time and cost savings. Beyond its use timber can re-used and easily disposed of or can be recycled into other streams such as pulp and paper, or even used as a fuel.
Using a truly sustainable material, offering high insulation values, quality construction and good air tightness, new timber frame buildings are well placed to meet the evolving needs of planet earth and its occupants.