New report calls for industry action to overcome regulatory and perception challenges and unlock the market for mass timber construction
A new report published today by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) sheds light on the major challenges faced by developers in their attempts to reduce carbon emissions in new building projects. It recommends a series of potential solutions that could unlock significant carbon savings through an increase in the use of mass timber.
The report, “Mass Timber: Challenges & Potential Solutions”, presents a summary of the research carried out through the ASBP’s Timber Accelerator Hub (TAH), a project initiated in response to the unfavourable market conditions that engineered wood products have been facing in recent years.
The project investigated the primary barriers preventing the wider uptake of mass timber and outlined how industry might overcome difficulties obtaining insurance, and the prevailing negative perceptions around fire performance and prohibitive regulation.
The report draws attention to a number of industry-led initiatives seeking to overcome these barriers, documenting a thriving ecosystem of organisations working to unlock mass timber construction through research, design innovation or cross-sector collaboration.
An example is the New Model Building, a project led by Waugh Thistleton Architects and funded by Built By Nature, which aims to create a pre-warrantied standard design for a six-storey mass timber housing block. The New Model Building approach is expected to be published in the coming weeks for use by the wider industry, which could spark a renewed use of mass timber in UK residential development.
The report urges developers and building designers to collaborate to define further design standards and common approaches to mitigating risk that could address insurer’s concerns.
Calling for the mantra in coming years to be “test, test, test”, the report calls on Government to work hand-in-hand with industry and rapidly scale-up fire testing programmes and provide clarity, following a string of divergent standards and policies released or drafted by the Greater London Authority, the British Standards Institute and the Government itself that have fuelled negative perceptions around timber’s fire performance.
Elaborating on this, the report’s author Joe Giddings emphasises that:
“The urgent need to address the climate emergency combined with the necessity of adequately addressing fire safety concerns creates an imperative to act fast and demonstrate fire performance through testing, especially given the timescales involved in undertaking large-scale fire tests and creating appropriate standards and regulations.”
Find out more about the Timber Accelerator Hub project – https://asbp.org.uk/project/asbp-tah. Download the full report below.
About the Timber Accelerator Hub
The Timber Accelerator Hub (TAH) was established by the ASBP, with funding from the Laudes Foundation, Timber Development UK and Swedish Wood, to work with a network of key construction industry stakeholders to investigate current barriers and explore potential solutions.
The project has been steered by a wider group of leading practitioners & experts drawn from a number of key partner organisations, in addition to the three outlined above, acting in an advisory capacity; Wood Knowledge Wales, Structural Timber Association, Cambridge Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Lendlease, Chase Underwriting, Gallagher, Gardiner & Theobald, British Woodworking Federation & OFR Consultants.
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Joe Giddings (report author) for interviews/technical content – firstname.lastname@example.org
“To create places that are truly fit for the future we need to think and act in a fundamentally different way across the built environment sector. We need to design innovatively to facilitate efficient assembly and disassembly of buildings, using a range of materials that can be used repeatedly, and ultimately recycled to eliminate waste. We must decarbonise ‘traditional’ materials such as concrete and steel, but we also need to accelerate the adoption of inherently low-carbon technologies such as engineered timber. And we need to collaborate, reflect and share lessons more proactively as we will only succeed if we learn together. The Timber Accelerator Hub plays a key role in facilitating this collaboration and shared learning.”
Mario Lara Ledermann, International Technical Lead, Lendlease
“The London insurance market is undoubtedly going through a hard market cycle, having enjoyed 10 to 15 years of favourable trading conditions. The result is a “flight to safety;” meaning that trying to bring “new” technologies and products to insurers in the current market cycle is significantly more challenging, and mass timber sits firmly in this category. Couple the above with a number of years in succession where insurers have made losses in the construction and property sectors, and rapidly introducing the large-scale adoption of mass timber creates understandable concern. That being said, huge progress has already been made, and the solutions are becoming clearer all the time; with quality, clear and open communication being at the heart. It is obvious that the expertise in the UK around mass timber and the quality of product being delivered is some of the best in the world, by some of the best in the world; the secret lies in how to both articulate and quantify this to insurers through common approaches. That is the key to unlocking greater acceptance and capacity.”
Dominic Lion, Associate Director – Real Estate, AJ Gallagher
“It appears there is currently a lack of confidence in certain elements of the construction industry generally, but especially towards mass timber construction. At the vanguard of the construction industry, however, there are extremely competent and visionary developers, designers and contractors who want to achieve net-zero in a safe and sustainable way. The question is whether there is enough time to let this knowledge cascade down to the whole industry, or whether a catalyst is needed. In my view, industry and government need to show courage and willingness to invest otherwise the industry will flounder in its critical pursuit of net zero. The obvious answer is to develop a rapid and extensive research programme to better understand innovative building materials and methods.”
Sam Liptrott, Director, OFR Consultants