Business comment: Sustainable timber construction - Why the UK needs to be ‘all in’

The UK construction sector has made big improvements in the way it builds homes and the much-vaunted Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are most definitely here to stay.

Timber as a construction material fell out of favour in the 20th century when steel and cement ruled the roost. But timber is sexy again.
Timber as a construction material fell out of favour in the 20th century when steel and cement ruled the roost. But timber is sexy again.

But we could be doing better. The city of Tokyo has the capacity to build more houses per year than the entire UK because Japan has been embracing MMC for 50 years.

Timber as a construction material fell out of favour in the 20th century when steel and cement ruled the roost. But timber is sexy again, and we have the carbon-capture qualities of wood to thank for that.

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According to trade organisation Wood for Good, each cubic metre of wood grown by a tree captures and holds 0.9 tonnes of CO₂. As context, the average household produces about 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

And this is recognised by the UK government. Displacing high-carbon materials such as cement and steel is one of the most effective ways to use limited biomass resources to mitigate climate change, according to the UK Committee on Climate Change as part of its review of the future of UK Housing.

The year 2050 is the target date set by the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, which is a substantial ask in a mere thirty years. Out of the UK’s total carbon footprint, a hefty 40 per cent is made up from the construction industry.

The UK and Scottish governments have both launched initiatives to make existing housing stock more sustainable. Indeed, Kevin Stewart MSP, Scotland’s Housing Minister, recently reported that the government’s Warmer Homes Scotland initiative had resulted in more than 20,000 households across Scotland now living in warmer, healthier homes with more affordable energy bills.

Looking at new homes yet to be built, there are a number of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and timber continues to be a top choice as a “green” building material. Its natural ability to lock up carbon makes it a catalyst in the need to build in a more environmentally friendly way.

Scotframe’s sustainability is rooted at the very heart of its business. We acknowledge how important it is for our customers to be reassured that we source products that cause no harm to the environment.

We are certified members of two leading forest certification programmes – the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – both of which protect and promote sustainable forest management.

But we also demand the same commitment from suppliers. We work across the supply chain and industry to ensure the credentials of all the timber we use, and our quality assurance scheme is accredited to the highest level – ISO 9001 Standard.

Scotframe’s focus on offsite timber construction also results in less waste going to landfill due to the highly efficient manufacturing process that spans design, material procurement, manufacturing and onsite installation. Waste levels are typically under 2 per cent of the material used.

But it is arguably in the field of energy efficiency that timber frame construction really shines. And that means making sustainable choices at the design stage.

Scotframe champions a “fabric first” approach, which can lead to significant energy cost savings over a home’s lifetime thanks to a highly efficient panellised construction for the walls, floor and roof of a building.

This method of building prioritises insulation and airtightness over more costly renewable systems such as solar panels, or energy-saving technology such as smart meters.

A fabric first approach is more sustainable than bolt-on renewable energy systems, as it doesn’t require the occupant to master complicated new technology or adjust their energy consumption habits – the building does the work. Also, because a building’s fabric is not readily accessible to occupants, it will continue to perform as intended for decades.

For me, that’s where the biggest wins are in terms of creating a truly sustainable construction sector and one where we safeguard and protect our planet for future generations.

- Malcolm Thomson is sales director of Scotframe

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