Timber Frame Construction Booming Thanks to UK Housebuilding Sector

For the past five years the Housebuilding has proved the most successful sector of the UK construction industry. The UK’s chronic housing shortage has ensured that demand for new homes remains strong.

Norbords Marketing Manager, David Connacher, says recent developments in the housebuilding industry look set to stimulate the market for timber frame construction.

David Connacher Norbord

In October 2016, in order to speed things up and help meet demand, the government launched a £3bn “home-building fund” – a loans programme to encourage more small to medium sized builders to focus on housebuilding.

Following this, in March 2018, Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in his Spring Statement an investment programme of “at least £44bn” over the next 5 years to put the UK “on track to raise the supply of homes to 300,000 a year on average by the mid-2020s”.

The government, said Mr Hammond, was “working with 44 areas on their bids into the £4.1bn Housing Infrastructure Fund” and would double the Housing Growth Partnership – a source of venture capital for small and medium-sized builders – to £220m.

The enhanced public sector spending benefits is good news for small contruction companies as well as the timber frame industry who will benefit from any boost in housebuilding activity.

Two years ago, Gavin Barwell, then Minister of State for Housing, announced that the government saw off-site construction as a key route to increasing building capacity – and according to the Structural Timber Association, up to 90% of all off-site systems are now timber frame.

The growth of timber frame is gradually changing long-established practices within housebuilding as the construction industry slowly but surely embraces the idea of off-site manufacture. This slow and cautious approach is due mainly to the fact that offsite manufacture means a huge reduction in the site-based activities that define a traditional building firm.

Benefits of Timber Frame House Building

  • Timber-framed homes are quicker to erect once the buildings foundations are installed. Typically it only takes two or three days to complete a whole house, much quicker than is possible with traditional brick-and-block.
  • Housebuilders can be more productive throughout the year if they build with timber frame as it effectively extends the building season, which traditionally slows during the winter period.
  • Aside from land prices, the two major cost factors in housebuilding are time and labour. By choosing to build with Timber Frames, on site erection time is cut down alongside the need for accessive traditional building skills.

The NHBC has reported that so far in 2018, new home registrations are the second highest in a decade. With a worsening shortage of site skills and rising materials prices resulting from the falling value of the pound, the larger housebuilders are also likely to look more closely at timber frame.

Structural timber technology addresses many government concerns associated with the procurement of housing – including environmental impact and energy efficiency, as well as speed of construction and cost. The materials that go into a timber frame system are generally more sustainable and more energy efficient than traditional masonry.

Besides ‘traditional’ timber frame construction, newer timber-based off-site technologies, such as cross-laminated timber and structural insulated panel systems (SIPS), are strengthening timber’s share of the housebuilding market. The benefits of these systems, being comparably lower energy intensive and emission producing in their manufacture and possessing greater thermal efficiency in their use, is helping to support their specification in the timber frame market.

Market forces, and government efforts to speed-up the development of new homes, are driving change within the housebuilding industry. Speed and efficiency favours off-site; off-site favours timber frame. The result is less reliance on traditional site-based trades and a gradual re-shaping of the housebuilding sector.

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