Timber and offsite construction: the answer to Britain’s housing crisis?

Building more affordable homes is back on the agenda. But who will build them, and how can we ensure they’re affordable?

Christiane Lellig is the campaign director at Wood for Good, the timber industry’s campaign to promote the use of wood in design

Christiane Lellig is the campaign director at Wood for Good, the timber industry’s campaign to promote the use of wood in design

7 December 2017

With new borrowing rules just announced by the Government, building more affordable homes is back on the agenda. Reverting the classification of housing associations to private bodies will remove £70 billion of debt, which allows them access to more funding to build.

This is great news, but the key questions are: how will the homes be built, who will build them and how can we ensure they are affordable?

Offsite construction allows us to create homes that are made in purpose-built factories using modern methods of construction, such as timber frame or cross laminated timber. It’s ideal for housing associations with tight budgets working to tight timescales to meet local housing needs.

It also addresses the lack of skilled construction workers in the UK. Offsite construction doesn’t need a large workforce. It does, however, provide jobs for local people and offers an opportunity for apprenticeships in design, manufacturing and building.

One housing association that has jumped on board with offsite construction is Accord Housing. It chose to use timber frame to meet local housing needs in the West Midlands and built a factory in 2011 to enable this.

It's currently creating 200 homes a year and plans to build more. The blend of timber engineering and manufacturing skills needed has created roles for local people, which in turn helps other local people. It’s a community effort.

Swan Housing is working in partnership with Basildon Borough Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to regenerate the 1960s Craylands Estate in Basildon. It also has a new factory for building cross-laminated timber homes, which can manufacture up to 300 homes per year when operating at full capacity and will create up to 40 jobs.

Using timber in housing means not having to compromise quality for affordability. While the cost of building with timber is broadly the same as other popular building materials, the build times for timber construction is up to 30% quicker. This means return on investment happens faster, which is good news for housing associations looking to build more homes for people who need them.

Manufacturing costs are lower too as the precision of building means less waste and lower snagging costs – these can be reduced by 90% and 80% respectively.

But the benefits go beyond what offsite construction can offer. Wood is a natural, renewable material. It’s environmentally friendly with negative carbon emissions and low embodied carbon and has significant thermal efficiency so keeps energy bills low. And for social tenants who are more likely to be among the four million people in Britain living in fuel poverty, building more energy efficient homes is key.

To see case studies of how housing associations and other agencies have worked together to deliver quality, affordable housing; understand more about how timber and timber products can be used and to view our lifecycle database, visit the Wood for Good website

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