18 Apr 2024

Turning a Dream Timber Self-build Project into a Reality

If you’ve made the decision to design, plan and build your own home, one of the first considerations is the building material. For a sustainable solution that’s cost-effective, easy to work with, quick to build and offers a host of design options, structural timber ticks all the boxes, says Karen Pedersen at Structural Timber Association (STA).


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It is an appealing option for self-build projects due to the wide range of advantages it has over other building materials. These benefits include speed of construction, versatility, energy efficiency and the positive impact it has on reducing and storing carbon. Indeed, it is the only truly renewable construction material and has a low-carbon footprint.

There are two main structural timber technologies for self-build – timber frame and SIPs (structural insulated panel systems). Here, we delve deeper into each and explore why they are such effective methods of construction.

Timber frame

Timber-frame construction allows homes to be built faster, with a higher degree of sustainability. Modern timber-frame structures are precision engineered, strong and durable. Manufactured off site with high levels of accuracy, a timber-frame kit can be produced concurrently rather than sequentially, enabling it to be delivered to site ‘just in time’ upon completion of site foundations. With just a couple of weeks required to erect the house to the watertight stage, you’ll have more control over your build schedule, allowing you to factor in follow-on trades soon thereafter.

This means that these homes can be cost effective in construction by reducing labour on site while also allowing for high levels of insulation to be incorporated into the building fabric – which makes them more energy efficient and keeps homeowners’ running costs low.


SIPs, or structural insulated panels, are an advanced method of construction that utilise composite panel techniques and deliver excellent structural and thermal characteristics in one system. The panels consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, typically oriented strand board (OSB).

Combining the structural and thermal envelope of the building, the panels are manufactured off site and delivered to the construction site, offering the advantage of a shorter build programme and reduced onsite labour cost. This panelised structural timber solution is easily and efficiently assembled to form a highly-airtight, energy-efficient building envelope. The versatility of SIPS enables additional floor space and also a habitable roof space for the home whilst offering excellent thermal efficiency and ensuring low running costs.

Choosing the correct technology for your project is crucial, and this is different for every person and project. Fortunately, timber-frame and SIPs construction share the key advantages of speedy construction on site and excellent thermal performance, which reduces energy consumption once the building is in use. Ultimately, the decision whether to use timber frame or SIPs depends on your priorities, preferences and specific project requirements.

Whichever technology you choose, working with an accredited expert in that field is the best way to ensure the highest levels of service and quality. It’s important to pay due diligence by carefully researching suppliers, manufacturers and building contractors to ensure you find the right fit for your individual project. The STA has a large directory of members to choose from, all of whom are committed to our quality assurance scheme, STA Assure, which provides reassurances of competency and high standards of work.

Further information....

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