Offsite: Homegrown timber’s MMC role

COP26 will showcase the first home built from Scottish-sourced cross-laminated timber, developed by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre. Innovation manager Sam Hart explains more to CM.

CM: Historically, timber has been used more widely in Scotland than other parts of the UK – why is that?

SH: Partly it is to do with local availability – another influence is local design. Around 85% of new-build homes are built with timber, which is three times more than in England and Wales. Scotland has forest and woodland covering around 19% of land – equivalent to 1.46m ha – and growing through the support of the Scottish government’s Forestry Strategy.

CM: Why should other parts of the UK embrace timber?

SH: Timber products are generally manufactured off site in modern facilities, making the process more efficient and repeatable. The sustainability benefits are significant.

CM: What impact can timber have on reducing the UK’s carbon footprint?

SH: There is high demand for timber products, yet in 2018 the UK was the world’s second largest net importer of forestry goods, behind China. Timber is a naturally renewable, low embodied-carbon material and removing the need to transport it from abroad could cut its carbon footprint even further.

The COP26 demonstrator was constructed at CSIC’s specialist facility using the only vacuum press of its kind in the UK for processing CLT panels and glulam/GLT panels

CM: Is homegrown timber currently used for any construction purposes?

SH: It has largely been restricted to non-structural applications in construction – broadly speaking, repair, maintenance and improvement, along with fencing materials and pallets. But Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures has proven that with drying and processing Scottish timber can be used in MMC applications.

‘With the right design, specification and fire safety engineering, timber is as safe as any other structuralbuilding material.’

Sam Hart, CSIC

CM: What potential is there for homegrown timber’s use in MMC?

SH: We are currently working on a project to trial homegrown timber in a live environment. The initiative has manufactured the first Scottish-sourced cross-laminated timber and nail-laminated timber housing unit at our innovation factory, where we have the UK’s only vacuum press. The home will be presented at the United Nations’ COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this year.

CM: What about fire safety concerns with timber-frame buildings?

SH: With the right design, specification, and fire safety engineering, timber is as safe as any other structural building material. There are significant research and development projects being undertaken in Scotland and England to address these concerns.

CM: What do you hope will come from the show home at COP26?

SH: The project will demonstrate the benefits of using timber in housebuilding and its suitability for high-value products in construction. Although it is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle, we hope it will eventually lead to the mainstream adoption of homegrown timber in the UK. It could also lay the foundations for the development of Scotland’s first engineered timber manufacturing plant, by proving the investment case for this type of facility.

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