2006 will be "the year of timber frame", predicts the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA).
While the cost of bricks and blocks used in most new home construction will continue to rise disproportionately due to skyrocketing gas prices, the introduction of tough new building regulations expected in April will also encourage more housebuilders and housing associations to try timber frame construction – and the tangible business benefits of this way of building will keep the construction industry coming back for more, says the trade body.
Phil Key, chairman of the UKTFA, particularly points to the dramatic conclusions of a National Audit Office (NAO) report into modern methods of construction (MMC) published late last year which proves timber frame construction delivers a tangible financial boost to public and private sector developers in England and Wales of up to £35 per square metre.
The report confirms that timber frame is already cost comparable to traditional brick and block construction methods, even without the latest price hikes affecting the masonry sector or the significant efficiencies being achieved in timber frame construction in more established markets such as Scotland.
Phil Key says: "Timber frame is extraordinarily well placed to benefit from the economic and legislative developments that will affect UK housebuilding in 2006.
"Spiralling materials costs are already hitting the construction industry hard, and gas-guzzling plants are closing as energy prices continue to rise. In contrast, timber frame manufacturers are extending their production capacity around the country.
“We are nowhere near as dependent upon expensive fossil fuels. In fact, 77% of the energy used in the production of wood products in the UK comes from wood residues and recovered wood. Through recycling our own waste we help to keep our manufacturing costs and environmental impact as low as possible.
"We also start the New Year with the official verdict of the National Audit Office that timber frame is cost competitive. Housebuilders have the capacity to build one additional house per week with exactly the same cost and resources if they swap to a modern method of construction such as timber frame.
“What’s more, we know from the experience of a more mature timber frame market in Scotland that developers' productivity and profitability could be even better than that, through the faster and more efficient sequencing of the building process that is common north of the border.
"These economic advantages come at the same time as regulatory changes that will hit masonry construction hard, but that are negligible to us. New energy efficiency regulations for the construction of new homes being introduced from 1 April 2006 can be achieved with a simple, highly insulated timber frame solution that is already standard across our industry. This means more timber frame homes that use less energy to run, which is a benefit to home buyers that will continue to increase in importance as domestic fuel bills rise.
"It's clear to me that this is going to be a bumper year, but it's not just the timber frame manufacturers that will benefit - the health of the whole UK housebuilding industry in 2006 could benefit significantly from changing to timber frame."
In addition to highlighting cost benefits to private sector housebuilders, the NAO report confirms that registered social landlords and housing associations using timber frame construction and similar modern methods of construction benefit from earlier rental income streams and can draw down Social Housing Grant earlier, which reduces interest payments on capital to fund developments.
Snagging costs are reduced because of the tighter quality control of factory-produced components, and the need for on-site inspection decreases as the amount of off-site work increases.