New guidance launched to facilitate insurance of mass timber buildings

ASBP and partners have released new guidance to enable a collaborative approach between construction teams and insurers, opening the door to more equitable insurance for mass timber buildings.

Mass timber has the potential to reduce the embodied impact of construction versus more conventional materials such as concrete and steel. It is strong and light, and as a natural material, has a strong aesthetic appeal. But, especially since the Grenfell disaster, mass timber projects have sometimes faced difficulty securing insurance.

The Mass Timber Insurance Playbook is a direct response to the challenges developers have faced, providing guidance for all parties involved in arranging insurance – for both development and operation of projects.

The Playbook was written by insurance and building resilience specialists, to help stakeholders in the insurance and construction industries to understand each other’s priorities and language. The aim is to enable constructive communication, to help overcome gaps in understanding that sometimes hold back mass timber construction.

Lack of confidence in regulations

The guidance has become particularly necessary after the major loss of confidence in regulation triggered by the cladding crisis.

Beyond the obvious question of whether the regulations actually achieve what they set out to, they are only concerned with occupant escape, and not building protection. There is nothing in regulations about structural integrity, beyond what is needed in terms of rescue time. But structural integrity is also of concern to insurers because the extent of damage will affect the extent of loss. This is addressed in the Playbook.

Beyond timber, beyond fire: Safety demands quality

There is more to fire risk than simply the presence or absence of combustible materials, and more to construction risk than just fire. The Playbook is not just for mass timber projects – the principles apply in every project.

The guidance covers construction quality control, record keeping, and building management, which are all central to building safety. It also addresses water damage in construction, a huge issue in insurance.

The steps to a safe and insurable building apply for all construction methods and at all scales.

What is in the Playbook?

Simon Corbey, ASBP’s Director, says the Mass Timber Insurance Playbook is a relevant and practical resource, that dovetails into the construction process from early concept through to operation. It encourages early-stage engagement of all parties, as a key element of success in the design and planning processes.

The construction phase was important to include, as there are different risks involved – before fire resisting surfaces have been installed, for example.

The Playbook offers project owners a framework for demonstrating to insurers the way risk is being addressed and mitigated, via transparent and well-thought-out processes. If the insurer can understand these and be satisfied that they are well controlled throughout the design and construction process and on into the building’s use, then they have a lot more of the information they need to assess the risk they are insuring.

The perspectives of the client, designer, architect, insurer, broker, lender, fire service, fire engineer, and building control, can all be different. The Playbook provides a common ground, following the RIBA stages, that can be used for all parties at any stage, as a reference point for what is relevant and required by insurers.

At the core of the document is a series of guidance sheets tying in with the RIBA stages. Annexes address insurability issues and example solutions.

The Playbook follows guidance on protection of buildings (BDM 01) as established by the insurance industry’s joint risk assessment authority RISC.

Road testing at a series of stakeholder engagement events ensured it is representative of best practice from both construction and the insurance and risk sectors.

Background to the project

The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) was awarded a grant from the Accelerator Fund from Built by Nature, co-funded by global insurance broker Marsh, and Zurich Resilience Solutions, part of Zurich Insurance Group, to create an industry endorsed guidance and Playbook for developers, investors and designers.

The main authors are Philip Callow and Jim Glockling. Philip is a 20-year veteran of the global construction insurance market, both as a broker and underwriter across the London and Asian regions. Jim is the recent Technical Director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA) and ex-Director of the RISCAuthority with 30 years’ experience, researching, evaluating, certificating and developing tools, standards, product and methods, in support of resilience within the insured commercial and military estates.

The project has been managed by the team at ASBP, led by Director Simon Corbey MSc MRICS, with input from Eurban and Gardiner and Theobald.

The MTIP provides succinct background and context to the insurance market on what is relevant for underwriters and on the responsibilities of developers and contracting parties towards risk identification and mitigation when executing a project. Responding to the UK insurers’ white paper “Insurance Challenges of Massive Timber Construction and a possible way forward” produced by RISCAuthority, the Playbook uses well adopted resilience reasoning embedded within the RIBA framework.

RIBA have acted as peer reviewers and will link to the Playbook post launch. The Playbook has been road tested at four stakeholder engagement events, with comments from a wide range of stakeholders incorporated.

The Playbook launched at Zurich HQ, London on 4th May at a by invitation only event, hosted by Zurich and ASBP. The Playbook is now available as a free download from the ASBP and Built by Nature websites. There is a concluding online free event on 25th May at midday, and an in-person ‘Meet the authors‘ event on 21st June, with contributions from the authors and contributors.

Jim Glockling has been invited to give a keynote speech at an insurance-focussed sub-group of the European COST Action – Holistic Design of Tall Timber Buildings (HELEN) on 15th May in Lisbon. The whole team including Robert Innes from Zurich will be speaking at Footprint in Brighton on 6th June, 13.45-14.30.

Visit the Playbook webpage to download


Olly Booth, timber specialist and partner at property consultancy Gardiner Theobald, speaking at a Mass Timber stakeholder workshop:

“This new guidance is incredibly important. There has been a lack of understanding of how risks are mitigated by design and construction teams, which have been holding back mass timber construction. Mass timber has been on the back foot and insurance is by far the biggest thing making projects stall.”

“There’s a lot of pointers in the Playbook that we should be adopting on all our projects.”

Co-author of the guidance, construction risk expert Jim Glockling:

“Insurance industry concerns are not kneejerk. They are genuine concerns that need addressing. The problem is that stakeholders each speak a very different language, and not all stakeholders are engaged at the right time.”

Playbook co-author Philip Callow of Mass Timber Risk Consulting:

“My research has made it very clear that communication is the key to progress. For the most part trades are doing the right thing, but when communication fails that is almost always where the issues lie.  There has absolutely been a disconnect in this area.”

“The cladding crisis exposed the fact that understanding and regulation of fire risks in construction was not fit to be relied upon. This has made insurers wary about buildings with any combustible components. Simply complying with the regulation is not sufficient to give insurers comfort.”

“The playbook is also relevant in other geographies, where we are also seeing huge growth in interest in mass timber construction. In some places such as North America and parts of Nonetheless insurers have the same concerns.

Sarah Newine Moore, architect at Eurban

“Eurban’s approach is to protect the “golden thread” on every project, to ensure the original design intent and all its provisions for safety and performance are preserved.”

“Dame Judith Hackitt articulated the “golden thread” principle in her report on safety in large and complex projects, written in response to the Grenfell disaster. Dame Judith called for meticulous information tracking – a key element in the Playbook framework. “

“The golden thread principle emphasises the need to get people on board on the design team who have the competence to preserve that intent safely through the inevitable revisions in a construction process.”

“It is not only fire that concerns us. An absolutely key thing is to protect the structure form moisture get the building watertight very quickly. This is something we put a great deal of energy and creativity into.”

Useful links

For further information, please contact Simon Corbey, Director, ASBP –

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