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Fighting fake news

A wise man once said that 'a lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.'

Unfortunately, that statement has never been more relevant than it is today. From politics to pop culture, the world has become well accustomed with the perils of fake news and the ease with which it can spread. Sadly, the same thing is happening within the construction sector, where structural timber suffers from a number of harmful misconceptions about its practical suitability. In this blog, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, looks to examine some of these misunderstandings and dispel any falsehoods that could be holding the material back from more wide-scale adoption.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is unsustainable and hurts the Amazon rainforest!

THE TRUTH:

Structural timber solutions used in the British construction sector are almost entirely sourced from well-managed forests in either Scandinavia, or in the UK itself. As such, any concern about potential damage to the Amazon Rainforest is severely misplaced. In fact, when sourced responsibly, timber is undoubtedly one of the most environmentally friendly materials currently available. Not only does it provide an effective carbon sink, but it's entirely renewable and can be continually grown year-round.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is dangerous because it burns!

THE TRUTH:

Whilst it's right to say that timber burns, it's wrong to say that this alone makes the building material inherently dangerous. As with many things in construction, the safety of structural timber solutions relies on installers ensuring that proper precautions and installation practices are being followed. In well-designed buildings, structural timber solutions are enclosed with non-combustible products to reduce the likelihood of fire spread. Ultimately, good design helps to mitigate most of the associated risk and can be achieved by employing installers who work to competency schemes, such as the STA Assure scheme.

The same applies to timber battens, which are often used in cavity walls to prevent the spread of fire in the event of a blaze. When fixed in accordance with well-established structural timber protocols, such solutions are able to provide long-lasting, durable performance, which both home and business owners can rely on. To this end, when installed correctly, timber in a cavity isn't exposed to moisture and as such, will not warp over time and create gaps that could ultimately render the battens useless.

THE CLAIM:

I can't get a mortgage or an insurance agreement for a timber frame house!

THE TRUTH:

Once again, this statement is simply incorrect. However, it's fair to say that the insurance industry has responded with caution to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and that, whilst Grenfell was a concrete structure, timber frame buildings have been unfairly caught in the crosshairs during this process. Yet insurance options for the material still exist. What's more, new test data is helping to better inform those creating insurance policies about the material and how it performs in a blaze, with more and more insurance firms starting to adjust their positions.

Similarly, some mortgage providers have been incorrectly influenced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a form entitled EWS-1. Originally, the form was designed to address combustible cladding materials in tall buildings but has been wrongly interpreted as applying to all buildings and all materials. Fortunately, the form is currently being reviewed and its scope should soon be curtailed. Despite all this, there still remains plenty of providers who are more than happy to offer mortgage products for timber frame structures at no premium.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is not as strong as brick and can rot without you knowing!

THE TRUTH:

A common misconception amongst individuals with minimal structural timber knowledge is that the material is used to build entire homes. In fact, most timber frame houses are clad in brick. As such, concerns about the relative strength of brick and structural timber are normally misguided and not applicable in practice. With that said, there's now also decades of evidence to support the notion that timber frame homes can be constructed without the need for brick and still go on to achieve no movement issues.

It's a similar story when it comes to concerns around rotting. In practice, the risk of rot in structural timber solutions is wholly dependent on the quality of installation. Suffering from rot is certainly not a risk inherent to structural timber solutions and can happen to most commonly used building materials. As always, it's essential to only work with a recognised, high-quality structural timber installer, such as those included on the STA Assure Scheme. In doing so, those looking to use the material can benefit from years of reliable performance.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is too expensive to build and then often costs more to heat!

THE TRUTH:

At the STA, we tend to hear this one a lot and aren't really sure why people continue to believe it. However, for conclusive evidence, we can look to the first independent construction cost comparison report on timber and masonry for affordable housing, conducted in 2018 by leading cost management organisation, Rider Levett Bucknall. The results were clear, timber frame construction is more economical than masonry construction and the build programme is shorter.

It's a similar story when assessing how much it costs to heat a structural timber home. Some people think timber has no thermal mass but it does, and it comes from the plasterboard. Additionally, it's wrong to believe that materials with low thermal mass cause heat loss. In fact, heat loss is affected by insulation, which provides the resistance needed to prevent it. What's more, buildings that actually do have high thermal mass levels, such as masonry structures, tend to cost more to heat as the fabric of the building absorbs heat in the early stages impacting on comfort levels.

THE CLAIM:

There's nobody in my region who knows how to build with timber!

THE TRUTH:

Nobody is in a better position to tell you this isn't true than the STA! We know more than anyone that timber frame installers exist all around the country and that there's no regional variation with regard to competency or quality. Whether it's using one of our member organisations, or those recommended through our STA Assure Scheme, individuals wanting to use structural timber frame construction can rest easy in the knowledge that reliable and affordable installers are waiting and ready to work with them.

For more information, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk/members

 
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