Timber in the driving seat to meet roadmap aims

Alex Goodfellow

By Alex Goodfellow, CEO, Donaldson Offsite

AT the end of 2023, the UK Government announced its Timber in Construction Roadmap to boost UK construction and reduce emissions. It seems many are concluding what we’ve known for decades: timber is the solution to creating high-quality, sustainable homes.

At Donaldson Timber Systems, we’ve designed and manufactured timber frame build systems to meet environmental standards for almost 50 years – while the Donaldson Group has promoted the benefits of timber construction for centuries.

Why now?

Demand for timber has grown in recent years, due to the good work of the structural timber sector, followed by the significant investment from the UK’s largest housebuilders.

As carbon reduction targets become more important, it’s encouraging to see structural timber being recognised by government and industry as the primary solution to building more sustainably.

As UK government figures show that the built environment is responsible for 25% of our national emissions, this is something we need to act on urgently. Using timber for a 2021 new-build home reduces the embodied carbon by between six and seven tonnes, compared to a masonry home of the same fabric performance.

The embodied carbon benefit for 2021 buildings will also increase further as regulations change to improve building fabric, compared with masonry, which will rely on more carbon intensive insulations and increased technology.

Timber can also lower or offset its embodied carbon thanks to sequestration – absorbing atmospheric CO2 while the tree is growing and storing it until the timber is at the end of its use. Around one tonne of CO2 is stored in every m2 of timber.

At current levels, if even 50% of the government’s target of 300,000 new homes each year were built using timber, it would take one million tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere each year.

Embodied Carbon

While we welcome the government championing timber, we believe areas of the roadmap could be delivered sooner, and it’s disappointing to see some of the potential measures for embodied carbon reduction delayed until 2025.

Embodied carbon is the most crucial factor when it comes to reaching true zero carbon. In 2021, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) developed the Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment, which indicates the impact of embodied carbon is set to increase and will form over half of built environment emissions by 2035. Despite this, embodied carbon emissions are currently unregulated in the construction industry, with only voluntary measurement and mitigation.

However, with targets looming, now is the time for the industry to work together to transition and deliver the benefits of low carbon construction.

Tried and tested offsite

As well as offering a solution to meeting the green agenda, timber frame build systems like ours provide a tried-and-tested build method that has the benefit of third party accreditation from recognised assurance and standards bodies such as NHBC Accepts, BBA and BOPAS.

Our BOPAS Plus accredited and BBA certified Sigma II Build System achieves superior levels of fabric performance, suitable for projects needing high fabric efficiency and airtightness standards. We have invested heavily in developing offsite solutions to meet future needs for more sustainable building.

While some types of MMC in the UK have struggled to build economic resilience, and in some circumstances have failed to deliver technically for the medium rise residential sector, we have a safe, reliable, cost-effective technical solution. Homes have been built this way across the UK for years and we know that it works. We are unique in the timber sector as we have a third party accredited closed panel product and our system is also verified to meet Cast/Homes England (HE) Pre-Manufactured Value (PMV) of up to 58.4%, which is required to gain HE-funding or acquire HE land.

We have the experience, build systems, and available capacity to meet government targets and crucially, to make a real impact on decarbonising the built environment. The timber industry is well placed to respond to the roadmap and provide the increased number of timber frame build systems outlined. Our sector is already capable of providing the data, guidance, and quality assurances the wider industry needs to build more sustainably with timber.

This report is a step in the right direction, and by working in partnership with government and wider industry, we are confident that we will be able to achieve many of the objectives, potentially even earlier than envisaged.

It’s clear we know why it is beneficial to build in timber, and the structural timber sector is now eager to show industry partners how it can be done safely and at scale.

The time for timber and offsite construction is now, and we’re proud to be part of the building better solution.