05 Apr 2016

Use timber frame to deliver a weather tight build, on schedule and on budget


The choice of material for self-builders is of paramount importance. Here, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association (STA), discusses how structural timber frame can help to ensure housing projects are made weather tight quickly, and completed on schedule and on budget.


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The use of timber in residential construction may have changed drastically over the years but the appeal of timber as a construction material endures. In fact, structural timber frame is incorporated in three out of four self-build projects in the UK today.

Pre-fabricated structural timber frame is manufactured offsite, meaning it can be monitored at every stage of its construction and is not reliant on a multitude of other trades and factors. Frames are built in a controlled and precise manner using the latest industry methods and technology such as insulation and vapour controlled layers and advanced breathable membranes with thermal, acoustic and fire protection in-built into the timber’s design.

Crucially, the choice of structural timber frame also helps to minimise project costs while increasing the likelihood of punctual completion, which is of prime concern when undertaking a self-build project. As structural timber frame uses offsite construction methods, it is not dependent on favourable weather conditions. This is a key benefit given the UK’s fluctuating climate. Strong winds, heavy rain and sub zero conditions have no effect on workers, leading to safer, better quality and more efficient production.

Furthermore, offsite construction helps ensure that architects’ plans are strictly adhered to, conserving the truest likeness to the original design. Fewer modifications to designs equate to fewer unexpected financial costs. Also, timber is a readily available material that can easily meet the demand of the self-build sector.

Brick and block supply have recently suffered shortages meaning a premium is placed on their price.

Additionally, the majority of heat is lost from a building by uncontrolled ventilation. Air tightness is strongly influenced by the type of construction. Timber frame buildings are intrinsically more airtight than both cavity masonry walls and solid masonry walls. Having a superior airtightness performance means decreased energy use, increased thermal comfort, increased air quality and a lower risk of moisture damage.

A good example of what timber frame can achieve is a three-bed, two-storey timber frame house in Saffron Waldon, Essex erected by STA member, Flight Timber Ltd. The project incorporated pre-fabricated build methods such as a Val-U-Therm closed panel system with external breather membranes, allowing the structural element of the house to be ready for the window fitters and roofers within a one-week period.

The build programme for this project was as follows:

Day one: Install Soleplates & DPC
Day two: Crane erect GF Panels & install headbinder
Day three and four: Fit loose metal web joists & flooring
Day five: Crane erect FF Panels & install headbinder
Day six and seven: Stand roof trusses and fix bracing

When it comes to self-build projects, structural timber frame is the product of choice for more than 75% of the sector. Its technologically innovative methods, inherent weather tightness and ability to deliver projects to cost and time constraints, gives structural timber frame a comparative advantage over other building materials.

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