Blog: Can Wood help Solve the Housing Crisis?

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This blog is a summary of Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) “From Trees to Timber Homes” conference, Edinburgh, 27th September 2017

Confor and Wood for Good welcomed a mixed audience of foresters, timber processers, timber produce manufacturers, academics, environmentalists, architects and contractors to discuss how forestry policy can be linked together effectively with climate change targets and a desire to build more homes from domestic timber. The mixed audience was a great success to help break down silos and creating a discussion about the process required to create timber homes in Scotland.

A joined up Land Use Policy for Scotland?

 With just 18% of Scotland forested (in comparison to 72% of Finland and 35% of Italy) it was clear that to increase income and manufacture potential we need to plant more trees. Davy McCracken of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) argued that to reduce risk associated from monoculture and maintain and enhance the ecosystem there needs to be greater collaboration between forestry and agriculture. Farmers planting trees on small portions of their land could contribute greatly to an increase in forest area. With agriculture and forestry policies at odds with one another he argued for a common Land Use Policy as a solution.

Stuart Goodall of Confor backed up this assertion pointing out that Scotland is not planting timber at the required rate, with the potential for a reduction in available softwood predicted in the next 30 years. Overall he was optimistic about the prospect of Brexit, with a move away from a Common Agriculture Policy and the potential for changes in exchange rate making Scottish timber products more attractive. He cited building with timber (particularly in England where timber buildings are only 22% of the total – as opposed to 70% in Scotland) as a great opportunity for Scottish timber production.

Wood can help solve the housing crisis

Innovation is key to utilising Scottish grown timber in housing construction. Robert Hairstans of Edinburgh Napier University outlined the potential for offsite construction to deliver housing in Scotland and the scope and feasibility of homegrown Cross Laminated Timber.

Christiane Lellig of Wood for Good asserted that wood can help solve the housing crisis, providing the opportunity to create new houses while storing carbon. She cited affordable and custom build housing (driven by the English “right to build” law) as key markets, noting that “most people opt for timber in their own home”. Christiane highlighted the health and wellbeing benefits of building with timber – and the calming influence it can have on building occupants, especially children in an educational setting.

In a call to action Callum Murray of CCG, while showcasing their urban mass timber projects, cited factory based construction as key not only to deliver Scotland’s housing but also combat address wider issues by:

  • Addressing the skills shortage by changing the reality of work for construction workers from the cold wet site to the warm dry factory- in turn increasing worker diversity;
  • producing a more efficient product, with less waste material, greater airtightness and better thermal efficiency while reducing the time spent on site.

Despite the positives he raised concerns that statutary approval systems are not ready.

Optimisation and Beauty

From a rural perspective, Max Garcia of Carbon Dynamic discussed the play between optimisation and beauty, highlighting their focus on a handcrafted fabric first offsite manufactured product composed 90% of natural materials. Their drive for innovation and research was illustrated through eye-catching videos of building sections being driven along rural roads then craned into place.

In conclusion, Neil Sutherland of MAKAR in presented key words related to timber buildings.

  1. Movement,
  2. Disruption,
  3. Quality,
  4. Process,
  5. Custom Production,
  6. Scale,
  7. Carbon,
  8. People,
  9. Skills,
  10. Blockages,
  11. Symbolic

He also presented a number of their previous projects argued against the view of the timber house being temporary –  that things that are well made, and well loved, last. He announced the demise of the plumber – as well insulated houses don’t require any heating – citing a project near Dingwall in which the occupant confirmed “I don’t have any heating costs!”. He bemoaned the “dinosaurs” of the financial community again not ready to embrace timber construction but ended with hope and ambition for Scottish timber building at a larger scale.

You can view the presentations from the event here

And read Confors summary of the event headlines here:

Image: Carbon Dynamic

Case study 8 – Paramatta

This private house has been constructed from natural materials and designed to make the best use of solar energy.

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