Here we examine if timber-framed housing could be the answer to the construction industry’s housing shortage and carbon footprint issues in Ireland.
Could increasing the use of one of the world’s oldest building materials be the answer to Ireland’s housing problems?
With the housing shortage crisis in full swing, and the environmental impact of the construction sector becoming more apparent every day, building more timber-framed homes could potentially address both these issues at once.
At bonkers.ie, we wanted to find out if timber-framed homes could offer us the solution Ireland badly needs, or if this prospect really is too good to be true.
What is a timber home?
A timber home is a dwelling where the primary load-bearing structure is made of timber.
There are two types of timber-frame construction: stick-built, which is built on site, or prefabricated which is built in a factory and erected on site.
People with these homes may opt to make it obvious they live in timber-framed homes, while others may decide to fully block and plaster it, meaning that you can not tell it is built with wooden frames.
What is the current housing climate in Ireland?
In 2022, under the Housing for All strategy, 29,852 homes were completed, exceeding the Government’s housing plan target for that year by 21.3%. However, Ireland is still facing a housing shortage. According to the Government, 33,000 homes need to be built each year between 2021 to 2030, to meet Irish citizens’ housing demands.
Brexit, COVID lockdowns, and the conflict in Ukraine have resulted in a shortage of construction materials and importation delays. This has caused inflation in building materials to skyrocket, with wholesale prices for construction products increasing by 16.2% over the 12 months of 2022 according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO). These prices are expected to rise even further once the Government’s new 5% concrete levy comes into effect. Labour costs have also increased during this period.
These increased building costs, coupled with long wait times for materials have caused construction times to increase, slowing down infrastructure.
Could timber-framed homes support the construction of homes here?
Yes, they could.
According to Coillte, Ireland’s largest producer of certified wood used for construction, the Irish timber industry can support the building of up to 44,000 homes a year, which surpasses the annual 33,000 goal set by the Government.
Currently, Ireland imports the majority of the timber used in construction from Scandinavia and North America. However, Coillte believes Ireland could be self-sufficient for all its construction timber as softwoods and conifers grow twice as fast here compared to the rest of Europe. This would remove the issue the construction industry faces regarding material shortages and importation delays.
Can timber frame homes lower the environmental impact of the construction industry in Ireland?
Currently, the construction industry produces 37% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, 14% of which comes from emissions generated during the building process.
To meet the Government’s Climate Action Plan goals, the sector must lower its emissions by 51%, meaning more environmentally-friendly approaches and building habits need to be adopted. Using more timber products could offer the solution.
For instance, timber products are less energy intensive to manufacture than concrete and steel. As well as this, timber is a renewable and sustainable resource that is recyclable and could be sourced entirely from Ireland, lowering the carbon emissions and footprint associated with the transportation, manufacturing and use of materials.
If a more environmentally-friendly building approach is not undertaken, then the number of new homes being built may need to be limited to just 21,000 units a year to ensure the sector’s carbon emissions goal is met, says the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC).
Bearing all this in mind, let’s take a look at the advantages associated with using timber to build homes.
What are the advantages of timber-built homes?
- Quick construction time: As timber-framed homes are prefabricated, they only require one week to be constructed on-site. In comparison, steel-framed homes take two weeks, while masonry-framed ones take 8 weeks.
- Reduced site labour: Timber frames only require three carpenters and one crane operator to construct. Seeing that labour costs have increased by 9.9% in 2022, the need for fewer workers on-site is better for you economically. As well as this, with fewer people working on-site the chance of accidents is reduced.
It should also be noted that because timber frames are prefabricated before being constructed, a higher level of consistency between builds can be achieved.
- High insulation levels: Prefabrication allows for these homes to be airtight so they are less likely to experience air leakage or draughts. This also makes them highly insulated, making them better for your pocket and the environment.
- Timber is a renewable and sustainable resource: Trees act as a natural gas exchanger. When they grow they absorb and store CO2 and release oxygen, making our air cleaner to breathe in. As well as this, timber-framed homes require less energy to build than steel and aluminium.
Although concrete and brick are less energy-intensive to build, they are more environmentally damaging in terms of emissions, making timber the most ecologically sustainable and low-impact material to use, especially if it is domestically sourced.
What are the disadvantages of timber homes?
However, with anything, there are also cons to building timber-framed homes, such as:
- Long procurement times can make planning difficult: Although on-site construction for these homes is quick, the lead times of timber-framed prefabs can take up to 8 weeks, due to the increased design and detail needed to create them.
To put this into perspective, this is the same length of lead time required for steel, and more than the 2-week lead time for masonry (based on the construction of a typical two-storey home).
Ireland’s reliance on imported timber may also be the reason why timber-frame homes in the prefabrication stage can take so long to construct.
- Lack of workers skilled in timber frame construction: There is a shortage of skilled workers in this field in Ireland. The need for properly trained craftsmen is a big issue as timber’s ability to be fire retardant, insulated and flood and rot proof is heavily tied to the quality of construction.
- Need for dry storage conditions: Prefab timber needs to be stored in dry conditions in certain positions to prevent warping and rot, as well as this they also take up more room than traditional materials. As a nation, we need more areas created to provide this space.
Can I get a mortgage if I have a timber home?
However, as some lenders consider timber-framed homes to be non-standard builds, there are certain considerations they might take into account before providing you with a mortgage.
These could include the other materials used in the property such as cladding, the condition and the insurability of the property.
So be sure to do your homework and shop around for a lender before you decide to build a timber-framed home.
Can I get mortgage protection insurance and home insurance on a timber home?
According to Coillte, 25% of new builds in Ireland are built with timber frames, this would not be possible if homeowners were not able to require mortgage protection or home insurance from lenders in Ireland.
Similar to applying for a mortgage, not all insurance companies will be able to provide you with insurance due to certain risks and challenges associated with having a non-standard build.
However, specialist non-standard insurance is available in Ireland, meaning your dream of owning a timber-framed home can become a reality.
Are timber homes more dangerous to live in?
There is a common conception that timber frame homes are at greater risk of catching fire, due to the combustible nature of timber.
However, all buildings in Ireland, irrespective of construction type, must adhere to the same set of building regulations.
Is the attitude towards timber frame homes changing?
According to Timber Frame Ireland, 70% of all new builds globally are timber frame homes.
Coillte states that 25% of new homes in Ireland are built with timber frames, however as the environmental, cost and insulation benefits of these dwellings become more well-known, a shift amongst the public has seen support for the building of more timber-framed homes in Ireland grow. These sentiments were laid bare in a survey by Red C, which found two-thirds of people believe more timber frame houses should be built here rather than using concrete or steel.
If we look at our neighbours, Scotland, which we share a similar wet climate with, over 80% of new homes are being constructed with timber framing, showing it is possible to implement this practice on a large scale.
However, the benefits and opportunities this environmentally friendly building method offers Ireland can only be harnessed if deliberate efforts are made by the Government to incentivise the necessary training and building practices it requires.
Become more eco-conscious today
If you found this article interesting, take a look at some of our other eco-conscious pieces below:
- Find out how you can engage in the circular economy today.
- Read about the future of renewable energy in Ireland.
- Discover the benefits of investing in solar panels for your home.
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