Home-Grown Homes Project on the home run!
The Project which has been the focus for our work since April 2018 formally ends this month. We’ve been studying the timber construction supply chain in Wales and apart from the global pandemic, which didn’t feature in our risk register, it’s turned out to be everything we expected – a significant body of work which altogether makes a compelling case for having an industrial strategy for timber in Wales. Right now Wales is a sheep and steel nation. In the future it needs to become a forest nation.
With our partners BM TRADA, Cardiff Met University and Coed Cymru we have looked at the way the supply chain operates from the growing of the raw material in the forest to its use in creating high-performance affordable homes. We’ve nourished a wider network of organisations to help shape our thinking and develop a raft of practical applications through projects across Wales. In 2020 the public health crisis slowed things up and created challenges we hadn’t foreseen, but we got there in the end!
The main project output is a report which tells the story of the supply chain and the work we’ve done to understand it. We’ve come to some important conclusions about changes which would help to make things work better. We’ve identified a series of interventions which could be made to barriers and improve outcomes for every part of the chain.
The project was conceived before the launch of Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme or the declaration of a Climate Emergency and when foundational economic thinking wasn’t as well developed and widely embraced in Wales. So, to an extent, we’ve sailed on a sea of radical thinking which has both reinforced some of our research ideas and made some of our suggested interventions more urgent. Social landlords want to use more timber in the homes they build, home-grown timber from Wales ideally. They also want to build better and quicker using novel techniques and off-site manufacturing, to create homes which achieve much higher levels of energy efficiency. Carbon reduction has become a new focus for house builders and there are early signs of real interest in the adoption of building performance evaluation techniques to help reduce the ‘performance gap’ in the homes we build.
We have to plant many more trees, that now seems to be widely accepted. And we need to plant more of them for timber, that’s more controversial. We need to develop a more sustainable approach to what to grow and where if we are to diminish our reliance on imported timber and start to see the timber we do produce in Wales used for higher value outputs like timber frame construction, not just fencing, decking, pallets and biomass. We have a sleeping giant of a timber frame manufacturing sector which has, with more support and investment, the capacity and capability to become the off-site manufacturing route some assume we have to develop from scratch or import from ‘over the bridge’. And we need to be supporting our social landlords who are keen to improve their knowledge and understanding and learn new skills in the development of high-performing timber homes.
Our final report includes conclusions around Net Zero Whole Life Carbon homes, reducing embodied, upfront carbon and energy demand, minimising the performance gap, support for off-site manufacturing, carbon off-setting, the opportunity for co-ordinating and consolidating timber supply and demand, forestry investment, our perceptions of conifers, strategic thinking, traineeships and leadership.
The report, which is supported by a number of individual outputs, guidance documents, specification tools and technical briefings, will be available on the Woodknowledge Wales website in early 2021.