We are at a crossroads in the UK and on a global basis: the world has woken up to the detrimental impact that we are having on the planet and recognises that it is time to act.
Unfortunately there will always be a balance of commerciality versus morals and ethics and insurers and brokers are entities who need to make a living to survive. We believe the debate at the moment is how they balance the two off against one another. How can insurers make money whilst advancing environmental agenda and, at the same time, making sure that we hit our carbon neutral targets? Is timber currently a commercially viable option in the sense of finding a price point that is acceptable to all parties and that makes this work for everyone? We believe that this is one of the key challenges at the moment. The experience for brokers is in finding the middle ground, where, at present, insurance for timber projects is expensive; yet developers are saying, to a level that they have never said before, that they want to build in timber, unless there really is a reason why they can’t. We believe that insurers understand that the need to build in timber is greatly increased compared to what it was two years ago, therefore a solution needs to be found that works for both parties. This will require that the right measures and the right protections are put in place to make timber developments as safe as possible, so that insurers can deliver a price and that it can be built into a model that can be commercially viable for everyone.
Looking at the global approach to the use of engineered wood systems, outside of the UK, there is a robust industry in other countries from North America, to Scandinavia, through central Europe to Australia. As insurance is a global industry, there is certainly something to be learned from other countries insurers’ experience and the performance of buildings they cover. With the focus now on rebuilding the economy and to mitigate the future risk of climate change, the Time for Timber campaign is central to starting the dialogue between the construction industry and those that insure buildings, from site to completion, and beyond.
This dialogue has continued with the RISCAuthority circulating its Building System Questionnaire: Massive Timber System in high-rise applications. The proposed use of engineered wood systems in high-rise construction is understood to offer significant advantages in terms of cost and sustainability but, as a novel building method, presents challenges for those asked to insure them. The questionnaire seeks to elicit information that could be useful in engaging with insurers and focusses on the known sensitivities of wood as a structural building material to the insurance perils of fire, and water exposure. The questionnaire has been developed by insurers through the RISCAuthority scheme. It is important to understand that ‘compliance’ with building codes is the assumed starting point (covering life-safety); the questions ask for details of the consideration given to the protection of the building and the business(es) conducted within it, and the mitigations proposed together with supporting evidence that will increase resilience. These are early days, but it is hoped that the learnings gained from the questionnaire will highlight the topics that insurers want to talk about and want to understand in order to bring constructors and insurers closer together to allow the increased use of engineered wood systems to meet the UK Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050.