The rise and rise of timber frame

Housebuilding starts are down, but it hasn’t stopped timber frame seizing yet more of the market.TiC reports.

AFTER MONTHS of gloomy reports about the housing market, the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) has shone some light on the timber frame market by revealing that timber frame construction has grown by 3% in 2007.

This is the ninth consecutive year it has seen growth. Currently more than 22% of all new housing is timber frame construction.

In contrast to the overall decline in housing starts last year (predicted to be about 4.4% lower than 2006) timber frame home building is estimated to have grown by 3.3% in 2007.

Results from the survey, conducted among UKTFA members earlier this year, reveal that more than 54,400 timber frame homes and commercial units were built in 2007.

Timber frame housing of up to two storeys increased by 11%, while there was a 28% increase in the market for timber frame commercial buildings.

Adding the value of commercial timber frame construction to housing, industry turnover in 2007 increased to £601m, up 10% on 2006.

Stewart Dalgarno, chairman of the UKTFA, says the timber frame industry in the UK has shown its strength, resilience and maturity in 2007.

He said: “Despite a difficult time for homebuilding and the housing market, timber frame manufacturers – through the aggregation of their own forecasts – clearly believe that the market will continue to grow in 2008 and beyond.

“This confidence comes from timber frame’s ability to comply with, and often exceed, building regulations and the low carbon aims of the Code for Sustainable Homes.”

In April, Persimmon postponed work on new sites until the mortgage market improves and in June Bellway Homes announced it expects to sell between 10% and 15% less houses than last year. But at a time when costs are being slashed and margins squeezed tight, Dalgarno says timber is well placed to survive the housing recession.

He said: “The highly integrated nature of the timber frame supply chain, its increased output for lower cost, and its ability to cut out inefficiencies and defects makes timber frame construction a very attractive option to housebuilders concerned about quality.

“We believe the popularity of timber frame will continue to grow because of this ability to offer homebuilders and developers costeffective compliance with these requirements.”

A comprehensive market report will be published for UKTFA members in the autumn. This will include more detailed information on the performances by country and region, with details on the trend of private and social housing and developments by type of dwelling.

Consistent growth
While the housing industry as a whole has struggled to meet demand over recent years, one sector has shown consistent growth - and that is timber frame.

There is every reason to expect that growth to continue, with the industry investing in increasing capacity to match the government’s ambitious housing targets of 240,000 homes a year.

Far from being a novel way of building, in most parts of the developed world timber frame is the norm, an engineered and proven system.

Over 70% of the population of the developed world live in timber frame housing. In the USA and Canada it accounts for 90% of low-rise buildings, while in Scotland 55% of new houses are built this way.

Timber frame is not just suitable for lowrise buildings. There is considerable growth in the construction of medium-rise buildings of up to at least six storeys for apartments and social housing, while it is also being used for schools and offices, hotels and student accommodation, sports and leisure centres and healthcare facilities.

Hotel chains Travelodge and Whitbread owned, Premier Inn use timber frame extensively for both new build and extension work. This year both will open 4,000 rooms each. Approximately 60% of new build hotels for Premier Inn will be built using timber frame.

Suring up health and safety
This year has been important for the sector, not least because the UKTFA, in partnership with the HSE, issued its new health and safety code of practice.

It aims to help protect workers, clients and members of the public when working on, or visiting, timber frame construction sites.

The code of practice sets out the management and operational standards that the UKTFA and HSE will expect to be adopted by all those involved with the supply and erection of timber frame structures, from selfbuild houses to multi-storey housing, schools and large commercial buildings.

All HSE inspectors will use the code when visiting timber frame sites and will look to all duty holders under the Construction, Design and Management regulations to have done likewise.

Jim Johnstone, chairman of the UKTFA’s Health & Safety Committee, said: “Like others, we are fully aware that more needs to be done to control the risks from working at height, slips and trips, manual handling and many other significant workplace hazards. This new code is just one way of making sure appropriate policies and procedures are in place to achieve a safer construction industry.”

Forward thinking developers
The industry says forward-thinking developers are increasingly turning to timber frame. An example is Bryant Homes’ specification of timber frame for ten, six-storey apartment blocks on the banks of the Mersey in Runcorn.

Prestoplan was appointed as timber frame supplier and, from the very beginning, worked closely with architects Calderpeel.

Mark Massey, associate director at Calderpeel, said the majority of the build was quite straightforward, comprising timber frame units on a concrete transfer desk.

“We did give Prestoplan a number of design challenges to overcome,” he says. “The first was a triangular-shaped cowl at the front of each building which had to be created from wood.”

He added: “This was achieved by cantilevering galvanised steel beams out from the main structure at each floor level.”

Ian Loughnane, Prestoplan’s technical director, said: “We needed a solution that preserved the visual appearance of these substantial wing walls while resisting significant wind loads on the exposed site.”

The Prestoplan technical team also worked with the architects to recommend and create large vents in the roof design. Without those, a giant wind tunnel effect would have been created.

Mark Massey added: “Another challenge was to demonstrate how the different construction materials, such as steel window frames and structural frame, could work together in preventing unnecessary stresses.”

A total of 466 one and two-bed apartments are being built in ten ‘architectural vessels’ at The Deck. Byrant says sales are good.

Massey adds: “It is taking around 14 months to construct each apartment. Timber frame has all the obvious advantages of quicker construction – enabling the plumbers, electricians, roofers and plasterers on site far earlier than under traditional construction methods.”