While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought large parts of the industry to a standstill, we’ve been working away as best we can to progress the Home-Grown Homes project further.

Project governance update

Acting on recommendations from the independent project review carried out in March, Powys County Council has strengthened governance by creating a steering committee to replace the project management board with an enhanced focus on scrutiny. The Group, which held its first meeting in May has an independent chair – Nigel Elias, Programme Manager with the ‘Better Jobs Closer to Home’ team in Welsh Government. The Steering Group members are:

  • Tom Simmons, Dafydd Evans, Vince Hanly and Gareth Jones (Powys County Council),
  • Jon Travis (Welsh Government Forest Policy),
  • Dominic Driver (Natural Resources Wales Head of Land Stewardship),
  • Jim McKirdle (WLGA Housing Policy Officer),
  • Sian Howells (Mid Wales Housing representing CHC) and
  • Simon Inkson (consultant).

Woodknowledge Wales was commended by the review team on the leadership it has brought to the project and on how well the project has created, involved and managed a wide network of stakeholders.

51 new homes in Newtown on the horizon

Three important affordable housing projects in Newtown have made progress despite the lockdown.

WKW has worked with Powys CC on its Affordable Housing Programme and helped in adding building performance and timber audit requirements into the tender documents for the Red Dragon project which is out to tender in June and July. It’s a project of 18 new homes on the site of a pub in the town.

The Council’s project at Sarn has been awarded to Pave Aways Ltd, Oswestry based contractors. It’s a mix of seven houses and bungalows due to start on site in June and being developed to Passivhaus standard.

Pave Aways Ltd has also been awarded the contract for the former Bowling Green project in Newtown which is due to start on site in July – the project has been delayed as a result of the previous contractor going into administration. WKW has offered to support Powys CC and Pave Aways in any timber-related issues on the project to create 26 flats.

Guidance taking shape

The Home-Grown Homes Project includes the development of a number of important guidance documents for specifiers, designers and procurement specialists.

The Good Homes Alliance is developing Guidance on Building Performance Evaluation and consultants Julie Godefroy and Susie Diamond held a workshop with 30 stakeholders to review the early draft document in May. Consultant Jane Anderson (of ConstructionLCA) held two workshops on 20th May for clients, contractors and consultants and took participants through draft Guidance on Embodied Carbon.

Both guidance documents are due to be published in September. Project partner BM TRADA has begun to prepare Guidance on Design, Production and Erection in Timber Frame Housing. The guidance will be in the form of a handbook to guide users from across the construction sector on ways of avoiding common problems through good communication and building upon past victories and defeats. It will discuss key items through the design, kit fabrication and site construction phases and will feature 100 key topics where common mistakes are made.

Reporting progress

Determining the efficiency of the ‘building envelope’ is key to improving how they perform. Two exercises or pilot days to test the performance of flats on two exemplar projects took place earlier in the year and the first report of the results has arrived.

The pilot days aimed to compare two different methods of measuring and assessing the efficiency of the building envelope, thorough determination of Heat Transfer Coefficient (HTC). The research methods under scrutiny were the co-heating test, where data is harvested over the course of two weeks, without interruptions and Smart HTC, which is a significantly less intrusive method, harvesting data over the period of five weeks. The pilot days also included a comparison of two methods of calculating airtightness – the common blower door test and the novel pulse method. Consultants Build Test Solutions carried out the tests and meetings are planned with the client and contractor to consider the report.

In addition to our testing, the Building Performance Network (bpn) will be publishing its review of performance evaluation of housing in June which WKW has been a partner in supporting. The study reviews new build housing performance and BPE methods and looks at the future of housing performance evaluation. Ahead of its publication bpn has produced a 2 page summary here.

A zero-carbon housing solution

We are now about to consult with organisations in the timber frame supply chain in order to develop a better understanding of issues such as buildability, detailing, materials, costs and skills.

Future Talent for a low-carbon society

As part of the Home-Grown Homes project we are working with the education sector to explore some of the insight that is emerging from the project and how this might be embedded within learning programmes. We are consulting with Universities and Colleges to do this. We have also developed strong links with Techniquest, a science and discovery centre supporting teachers and schools across Wales. Our collaboration focuses on learning about the forest, forest industries and carbon literacy. We’re off to a promising start but nothing can replace applied knowledge… Read more here.

WoodBUILD autumn seminar series

We have reviewed options for our annual conference, including online formats, and will now be delivering a series of technical webinars, engaging online presentations, and conversational podcasts throughout the autumn. The programme is currently being finalised and will see topics and features across forestry, manufacture and housing. The technical webinars will predominantly focus on findings from the Home-Grown Homes project and the series of guidance documents and implementation tools we’re working on across the various work packages. Our series of conversational podcasts will attempt at opening up a debate about potential solutions to topical issues around the forest and housing economy in the context of a climate and biodiversity emergency. We’re open to suggestions for topics you’re interested in and interesting people you would like to see in conversation with each other about these. Please contact Christiane.Lellig@woodknowledgewales.co.uk to submit your ideas.

Welsh Window solutions

Christiane Lellig is co-ordinating a spin-off project from the Home-Grown Homes Project. This will take the initial work and interest generated by the Project in developing a standard window design for social housing providers in Wales through to a practical solution so that those windows can be manufactured by Welsh joinery manufacturers. A kick-off workshop with joinery businesses took place on 5 May. As part of this project we are conducting a survey on the most common window specifications in new and existing social housing. Find out more about the project here. Please contact Christiane.Lellig@woodknowledgewales.co.uk if you’d like to get involved in the project.