Does money grow on trees?

Here, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association discusses the increase in use of structural timber frame and the commercial benefits the material presents for housebuilders.

Understandably, when considering a building material for any project, one of the main considerations for housebuilders is cost. This is then followed by several other important factors including product availability, its speed of build, quality and the skills resource required to implement the method.

The natural answer is structural timber frame, which has significantly increased its market share over the last 12 months and is now used in 27.4% of new builds across the UK, up from 24.8% last year, representing a 10% proportional market share growth.

Several large housebuilders and developers are also becoming aware of the multitude of benefits the product presents, with housebuilder Barratt choosing to increase its use of structural timber frame to one in 10 properties. Increasing its residential building capacity, Willmott Dixon is also using structural timber frame for its offsite manufacturing capabilities.

This is where a significant proportion of structural timber frame’s commercial benefits can be seen. Structural timber frame’s offsite manufacture offers a threefold saving in the form of reduced reliance on on-site trade, predictability as well as increased health and safety.

The current lack of skilled and available bricklayers, with two out of three small builders having to turn down work due to deficiency of staff, means that offsite manufacture is ideal. This was identified by housebuilder Barratt as one of the main influences in its move to further incorporate structural timber frame within its housing stock. Significantly reducing the number of onsite personnel, the offsite nature of structural timber frame means that it is particularly suited to the current construction climate and produces tangible cost savings with regards to employee wages.

Furthermore, through the use of the latest industry methods and technological innovation, factory construction ensures the product is created in a controlled and precise manner. Frame can incorporate innovations such as vapour controlled layers to increase durability, alongside breathable membranes with thermal, acoustic and fire protection inbuilt into the timber’s design.

Additionally, in a factory setting health and safety costs can be reduced as a factory-based environment ensures safer working conditions and decreased height risks when compared to onsite construction. An added benefit of factory prefabrication is also the elimination of weather as an unpredictable variable in the construction of a property. This can be a substantial cost given the uncertainty of the UK’s weather patterns; offsite manufacture therefore provides protection from the elements enabling stricter deadlines.

These benefits consequently mean that the product is delivered to site in a timely manner, with the truest representative of the architects’ designs without the need for substantial onsite trade and labour costs.

Structural timber frame build time is therefore typically 30% quicker than ‘traditional’ methods of construction. Consequently, when considering cash flow and the rate of return of a project, structural timber frame allows for properties to be built and sold quicker, enabling the initial investment payback milestone to be met in a shorter time period.

Further cost savings can also be found throughout the project timeline. For example, the lightweight structure of the building, when compared to brick and block, means that the foundations do not need to be as deep, saving time and cost. More financial savings can also be found within the factory if window and doorframes are factory fitted, reducing the need for onsite carpentry. At the final stages of the project timeline, offsite manufacture means that there is less material waste onsite, reducing landfill and disposal fees.

A truly sustainable building material, structural timber frame offers a cost effective, time and labour efficient construction method. When combined with the multitude of benefits that offsite manufacture presents for housebuilders, structural timber frame poses a credible and real solution for building more, high quality properties in a shorter period of time.