City & Country speak at The Timber Stage at the Footprint Conference

Simon Vernon-Harcourt, Design & Planning Director at City & Country presented and discussed the use of timber frames in housing delivery at the recent Footprint conference.  Below are some of the key points discussed by Simon.

“Timber is robust and a long-term and sustainable way to build and shifting the mindset around timber is essential. We need to do something that hasn’t always been done and show the purchaser the benefits of timber frame homes. At City & Country we have researched a lot into the use of timber frames across our developments, and whilst the UK roadmap to promoting timber frames, we have a steep learning curve if we are to get close to Scotland’s timber housing. We are proud to be building with timber and using a material with lower embodied carbon

“Recent Government figures estimating that England needs to build up to 300,000 new homes every year to tackle the housing shortage, fresh solutions are urgently required to speed up the building process.

One solution is using more timber when we build new homes. Currently a popular product all over Europe, the England is currently lagging massively behind in fully harnessing the power of timber in construction.

According to JLL, each year, more than 6 billion sqm of buildings are constructed using carbon-intensive materials such as glass, iron, steel and concrete. Yet, mass timber buildings are roughly 25% faster to construct than their concrete equivalent.

Compared to bricks and concrete, a timber frame is a lighter construction method, which means it’s easier and quicker to both transport and assemble, and it locks in carbon.

And it’s versatile too, with timber lending itself to any building project, whether it’s housing, apartment blocks, or commercial buildings.”

Education, education, education

“What is clear is that there is currently a lack of understanding around the benefits of using timber – as well as some misconceptions about the material, but more awareness of this building material needs to be fully understood to dispel the rumours.  For example, timber frame homes have been built for centuries, and many of them have been standing for centuries. Timber frame is a material that will stand the test of time, and a house built of timber frame will last just as long as a masonry home. Timber is a traditional building material with a proud English heritage. The use of a timber frame in our Manningtree development to replicate the tradition in East Anglia for us was really important.

Also, we need to look at the environmental benefits and improved insulation in the home. If you focus on the energy used in the design and construction of a new home, rather than just the energy usage once built, timber comes out top. A home build of concrete blocks, will have had the raw materials mined, baked and transported using vast amounts of energy, whilst the trees used for timber frame have been grown absorbing and storing carbon which will be locked into the home for generations to come.

Timber frames of course comes with their quirks – shrinkage over time will happen, but this is easily dealt with in the design of the house leaving appropriate movement joints.”

Green mortgages

“Timber can also help to bring down your homebuying costs. The drive towards green lending ia designed to reward sustainable living.

In January 2023, figures from Moneyfacts showed there were 533 ‘green’ mortgage products available. These specialist mortgages offer reduced interest rates to people buying more energy efficient properties including those made from sustainable materials such as timber.

So, there’s even more reason to go green in a future home.”

The devil is in the detail.

Having worked with timber on a number of projects, the advice I would give to anyone thinking of using timber frames is to meet with several suppliers and work with experienced architects used to working with timber frame. It is about getting in the right suppliers and consultants on board with the process.

Boosting our home-grown timber industry in the UK has significant benefits and plays a fundamental role in the need to reduce our carbon emissions in the built environment by 2050. After all, the more efficient you can build, the more carbon you are saving.

The transition to net zero, time efficiency and durability, all reasons why the UK needs to fast-track the adoption of timber frames not only in housing but in the built environment.