I was delighted to attend the launch of the new trade association, the Structural Timber Association at Timber Expo this week at the NEC. I have been working on the design and construction of sustainable timber buildings for many years now and I think that the material has a lot to offer a sustainable construction industry. This change in the trade association structure means that for the first time the material has a single association that is set up to provide information about timber frame, Structural Insulated panels (SiPS), glue laminated beams (glulam), cross laminated timber (CLT) and other forms of timber structure. The bringing together of all of these interests means that the STA’s members will be more likely to work together to develop hybrid structures and to produce timely and relevant written guidance. Importantly it will also be able to act in a more coherent way to counter those who think that timber doesn’t have a part to play in our future, as many house-builders do not, and to help to convince them otherwise.
Apart from the more sustainable nature of the material, there is a clear problem at the present time, as we pull out of recession, where there is a shortage of traditional construction materials. All our clients tell us that they cannot find the right bricks. or blocks, or even people to lay them. If there was ever an opportunity for timber to grow its market share in housing construction, this is it. By demonstrating to house-builders that timber in its many forms presents a cost-effective, timely and speedy way of constructing their projects, the STA can quickly demonstrate to the market that timber has a place at the table.
The thing to avoid however is the mistaken belief that one material can directly replace another in structural terms. This is simply not the case. If a design will work in steel or masonry, that doesn’t automatically mean that it will work in timber. The STA should advise its members that in the rush to fill the gap, they do not commit themselves to delivering designs that will result in unhappy compromises, for the manufacture and for the house-builder. Don’t be afraid to say no to a scheme that won’t work in timber, there will be other opportunities.