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This month’s overview focuses on recent changes to EU Timber Regulation. We also take a look at what is being done to encourage the use of home-grown timber, and a number of recent product developments that have come out of this.

Timber Regulation

Introduced in March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) aims to tackle illegal timber supplies, forming part of a wider European initiative. It is there to ensure illegal timber does not enter local markets. The new legislation places a legal obligation on those putting timber products on the market for the first time, including manufacturers, importers and distributors.

‘Although the obligation will be with the operators to adopt a due diligence system to minimise the risk of illegal timber being imported, traders further down the supply chain - including both merchant branches and even housebuilders - must ensure they have systems in place to be able to trace timber purchases to sales,’ says George Watson, product manager at SmartPly.

He adds: ‘Although it is unlikely that the harshest penalties such as seizure of goods and suspension of authorisation to trade will be enforced on the end of the supply chain, a housebuilder for example, should be aware of the reputational downside of having been found to use illegally harvested timber. This could be significant and the best way to avoid this situation is to purchase only no-risk materials’.

Malcolm Ellis of International Timber adds: ‘You might be forgiven for initially thinking that EUTR does not affect architects as most products will have already passed through operators and traders down the supply chain before reaching the architect or specifier. However, seizure of timber (a potential penalty) along the supply chain will have significant impacts on all involved and, from the architect’s perspective, could result in a direct cost to the bottom line of the project. So it is clearly vital that all participants in the
supply chain, including architects, take due diligence seriously to ensure the credibility of the materials they source.’

For architects this new legislation could mean greater security and less risk when specifying timber products

Timber will also be affected by changes to the Construction Products Regulation coming in during July 2013. This will require all wood products that are used in construction in the UK to carry a CE mark. Supporting documents will need to be provided with all timber specified, proving the environmental and legal derivation of the products.

For architects this new legislation could mean greater security and less risk when specifying timber products. Watson believes: ‘The changing landscape of timber supply is driving all parties in the supply chain to work in a more integrated way, sharing the
responsibility for compliance. The result of this will be a much more robust approach to sustainable and legal timber products’.

Encouraging the use of UK timber

Many new initiatives are being developed that aim to increase the use of home-grown timber in the UK construction industry. The UK timber industry primarily grows softwoods. The Forestry Commission estimated that in 2011, 10.4 million tonnes of roundwood was removed from UK forests, and 95 per cent of this was softwood.

Wood for Good is an initiative working on behalf of the UK timber industry to campaign for the increased use of wood in construction. Chaired by architect Craig White, the group promotes the carbon sequestration properties of timber and therefore its suitability as a sustainable building material. It is also campaigning for the government to introduce a ‘wood first’ policy into local planning legislation.

Wood First, as the campaign is known, aims to raise the status of timber to being a first-choice, primary building material. This would require sustainably sourced wood to be considered, where feasible, as the primary construction material in all new-build and refurbishment projects. The organisation states that this will help the UK meet both local and national targets for carbon reduction.

Increasing forest cover is one of the most effective weapons in the battle against climate change

David Hopkins from Wood for Good explains: ‘Increasing forest cover is recognised as one of the most effective weapons we have in the battle against climate change, and the best way to achieve this is to stimulate demand for sustainable timber products. The introduction of a ‘wood first’ rule will help to make this happen.

‘Introducing the rule would bring multiple benefits to local authorities. It will help drive efficiencies by increasing the speed of construction, while timber’s exceptional thermal insulation properties will enable them to create homes and buildings that consume less energy.’

The Grown in Britain programme, headed by BRE chief executive Peter Bonfield, emerged in July 2012 from the government’s independent panel on the future of UK forestry and woodland policy. Grown in Britain aims to boost levels of woodland management through demand for home-grown timber. It has partnered with various organisations on a number of timber construction projects including the University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre, due to complete in January 2015, and the extension to the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre in Wales, designed by Architype.

Both of these projects are pioneering a renaissance in the use of Brettstapel. This construction method, increasingly being called Dowellam in the UK, is a solid-wood, structural panel system that can be manufactured using UK grown softwoods. The visitor centre at Coed Y Brenin is considered to be one of the first applications of this method using home-grown timber, and is seen as a significant breakthrough in the campaign to manufacture Brettstapel from home-grown timber.

Sketch of the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre with the new building shown highlighted in grey

Source: Architype

Sketch of the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre with the new building shown highlighted in grey

The 400m² extension to the existing visitor centre will include a new bike shop, a conference room and meeting room facilities. Brettstapel will be used for the load-bearing external walls, internal partitions and the first floor construction.

Brettstapel was first used in the UK by Gaia Architects on Acharacle Primary School in Scotland, in 2009. This highlighted the construction technique and, although not made from local timber, it could be credited with beginning the future developments of this method within the industry.

The use of Brettstapel on the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre has been boosted by investment from initiatives encouraging the use of local Welsh wood, including Wood Knowledge Wales, Wales Forest Business Partnership and the Forestry Commission Wales. There are currently no commercial manufacturers of Brettstapel panels in the UK, and this investment could encourage it to become a commercially viable product. As the desire to use prefabricated systems increases, we could see a rise in the number of architects looking to use the Brettstapel system.

A modular housing company was set up by the Coed Cymru sawmill in Wales to explore the use of low-grade timber. Named Ty Unnos, meaning ‘house in a night’, the company draws on ancient traditions of building houses quickly in order to claim common land. This parallels the system’s ease and speed of construction.

At present, most timber-frame manufacturers in the UK use imported softwoods due to their greater stability and superior strength, but Ty Unnos is working to develop ways of using home-grown timber to its full potential. More than 70 per cent of Welsh forestry production is Sitka spruce, yet it is rarely used for UK construction due to its poor structural strength qualities. Ty Unnos has developed a modular building system using entirely Welsh timber. The system, based on simplified beams and standardised kits, uses local Sitka spruce in standardised, readily available lengths.

Using coppiced willow, engineer Smith and Wallwork worked with Cambridge University architecture students to develop a timber bridge structure that would not decay over time. The bridge at Cow Hollow in Cambridgeshire uses a deck created by planting willow into the riverbanks. This method negates the need for any steel or concrete and shows how small bridges can be created using entirely local wood.

The bridge at Cow Hollow by Smith and Wallwork with Cambridge University students was created from planted willow

Source: Michael Ramage

The bridge at Cow Hollow by Smith and Wallwork with Cambridge University students was created from planted willow


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