Timber: Growth Industry; Rural Affairs Editor Andrew Forgrave Reports on a Major Modern Revival for an Ancient Building Material
Byline: Andrew Forgrave
CONCERN over climate change is likely to fuel a boom in Welsh forestry as a new wave of timber buildings is constructed.
Forestry Commission Wales is looking to showcase timber's potential to builders by constructing a model sustainable house using Welsh timber and packed with environmentally-friendly features.
The idea came from sustainability minister Jane Davidson who believes wood have an increasingly valuable role in future construction.
"There is no more sustainable a building material than wood," she told a timber conference in Cardiff last autumn.
"It locks away large amounts of carbon. It is a lightweight, attractive and flexible material with high insulation properties that will help to drive down the carbon footprint of our construction industry and can be grown, processed and used locally - so reducing 'timber miles'."
In the past advocates of timber homes have struggled to convince builders, architects and consumers that wood's inherent qualities - design flexibility, lightness and speed of build - outweigh those of traditional bricks and mortar.
But global warming has moved the goalposts and timber is now seen as a valuable brake of greenhouse gas emissions - especially now the Welsh Assembly Government wants to make all new buildings zero carbon by 2011.
"Timber can provide energy efficient buildings at affordable cost. It is a natural sustainable material which inherently boasts very good insulation properties," said Carey Lewis, of Wood Knowledge Wales, the newly formed research arm of the Welsh Forest Business Partnership.
"To build sustainably we have to build differently, and that means looking at a range of options - but both here and across Europe the most energy efficient buildings are constructed of wood."
Since 1997 carbon dioxide emissions from housing have risen more than 5% and now account for 27% of Wales' carbon footprint.
Timber homes often a solution - there is no question they are more thermally efficient, less carbon dioxide is produced in their construction and less material is used as well - particularly in foundations. And their lighter frames are expected to adapt better to ground shrinkages as the weather hots up.
Such benefits have already seen the UK timber house market grow 10% a year since 2004 - in Scotland more than half the new homes are built using timber frames.
If this trend is to be accelerated, logistical problems in Wales' forestry must first be overcome.
According to Derek Jones, of the Centre for the Built Environment, NEWI, Wrexham, supply chains must be modernised to ensure quantity and availability of wood.
He said: "In a typical Welsh valley there will be not a single managed tree and in many cases those that are felled are cut as low value logs."
At present roughly half of Welsh woodlands is managed for the Assembly Government by the Forestry Commission and half is in private ownership. Harvested volume is greater by proportion from the public sector: the trick will be to increase the contribution of the private sector.
The Welsh Forest Business Partnership, which emerged from work done by the GATE (Gaining Added value from Timber in Europe) project, has been given the job of co-ordinating supply and marketing issues for Wales' 1,700 wood-related companies.
Already its work is bearing fruit. …