Interest in using more timber to build social housing in Wales is being supported by active research with Powys County Council and a number of housing associations actively developing new homes across Wales.  Designing, specifying and sourcing timber for structural frames, cladding, insulation, windows and doors has focused attention on a supply chain of timber growers, sawmillers and manufacturers all keen to see more home-grown material.  At the end of its first year the Project is in a good position to deliver its stated aims and we know a lot more about:
• the availability of home-grown timber for social housing;
• the material characteristics and suitability for social housing;
• the link between softwood consumption and forest area for different timber frame systems;
• which type of forest systems can best deliver construction timber in Wales;
• the land area needed to grow homegrown construction timber;
• the classification of appropriate timber frame systems;
• the manufacturing facilities required for a Modern Methods of Timber Construction strategy;
• the range of viable sawmilling processes needed to deliver home-grown construction timber.

A project evaluation exercise was carried out in the spring and has resulted in recommendations which will help improve governance, communications and stakeholder engagement and the Project team will be working closely with Powys County Council on implementing the changes.

Two new faces have joined the project Team. Powys CC has appointed Tom Simmons to be a key contact between the council and project partners.  Tom’s background is in procurement and his farming family background means he has a good understanding of the issues the Project is researching.  Project partner Cardiff Metropolitan University has appointed Diana Waldron as Research Associate to work on the building performance agenda.

Arial photo of Welshpool Croft Court Site being build by MidWales Housing.

Croft Court in Welshpool. A build project by Mid Wales Properties

The exemplar projects featuring timber elements are progressing.  The projects already on-site have been joined by the Bowling Green in Newtown where contractor Jistcourt and Lowfield Timber Frame have been awarded a contract to build 24 flats – the project will feature a frame, insulation, windows and doors using as much home-grown timber as possible.  Mid Wales Housing’s Croft Court project is out of the ground and drone imagery shows the complicated site constraints which contractors Mid Wales Properties have had to deal with on the 17-unit project. Grwp Cynefin’s Buckley Project, now named Llys Hampson is nearing completion – the contractor Williams Homes sourced a home-grown timber frame from BSW and we featured a Ministerial visit to the site in an earlier newsletter (see here). We’re continuing to work on identifying solutions to many of the barriers faced in using more home-grown timber.

The foundational stage of two key Project work packages are complete. Coed Cymru have been leading on timber supply and demand so we know more about the timber we grow and harvest, how much we use in construction and where the rest goes. We also know more about the kinds of challenges we face in introducing change to a production process that services low value outputs like fencing, pallets, packaging and paper and where construction grade sawn logs are fueling biomass.

BMTRADA, working with Cardiff Met University has helped us to identify the state of the timber frame manufacturing sector in Wales and identified the kinds of challenges faced by companies keen to innovate and grow. We’re going to look to bring together clients, contractors and manufacturers to explore solutions in future events.

Cardiff Met University is also finalising a building performance protocol to interest social housing clients in carrying out a range of tests aimed at improving the quality of the homes we build and reduce the performance gap – the difference between the performance we design and the one we too often see delivered. We want to learn about the challenge of carrying out and analysing the various performance tests at design, construction and occupation stages on projects.

We’ll be publishing these outputs in the next few weeks on our website.

Under-story of forest showing tree trucks with light coming through and all in a green overlayWe’re in the process of signing-up a design partner to work with us on developing the demonstrator house, following the tender exercise carried out over the past few months. Following the Project evaluation and considering some current advances in Modern Methods of Timber Construction and Whole Life Carbon thinking, we have worked with Powys CC to follow a different approach. We now plan to appoint a development team consisting of representatives from project partners, R&M Studio and others (e.g. engineers and timber specialists) to develop a systemised approach based upon fabric first principles: maximising the performance of the building components and materials first and also employing Whole Life Carbon thinking. Our aim will be to design a build system and then consider how it might be employed to maximise the Carbon Capture, Use and Storage impacts demanded by Welsh Government.  The first development meeting is set for May.

The focus of the education demonstrator will be as a re-deployable facility. Following the development of the systemised approach to the demonstrator house we will be in a position to integrate it into the education pod and so commission its design and build.

Two, “Insulating with Wood” events have been held in Bangor and Swansea with 70 delegates attending in total.  A summary of the events and the power point presentations from the events are available here.  A third event in this series will be held later in the year.

For more information, contact David Hedges, HGH Project Manager on 07989 345140