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  • Scotland sows the seed for homegrown timber housing

Scotland sows the seed for homegrown timber housing

Looking at the rural housing stock in Scotland, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d crossed the North Sea as the Scots embrace their Viking roots. Traditionally, Scottish homes were built using stone but this went into decline as more building materials became available. Now, 85% of all new homes in Scotland are built using wood. That's almost three times more than in England and Wales.

There are many reasons for this increase in popularity for building with timber. Firstly, the commitment to building timber houses has been driven by cross-party support from the Scottish Government, which last year pledged to plant 33 million trees by 2025. However, only a third of timber-built homes in Scotland are constructed using Scottish wood, so the aim is to increase the use of homegrown timber. Building with wood also offers a solution for climate change and offsite timber construction methods mean homes can be built more quickly.

Embracing offsite construction

Offsite timber construction is growing in Scotland with a market value of around £250 million. This has led to the establishment of co-operative Offsite Solutions Scotland, which brings together a mix of modular and timber frame manufacturers, sustainably-conscious architects, Edinburgh Napier University, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre and Scottish Enterprise. All have the same goal of using the best in timber offsite solutions to transform homes and communities in Scotland.

Leading the way for timber modular housing in Scotland, and one of the one of the founding companies of Offsite Solutions Scotland, is designer and manufacturer, Carbon Dynamic. Based north of Inverness, this organisation is no stranger to the harsh weather conditions the country can offer. Carbon Dynamic is committed to creating low energy, warm and beautiful homes created from locally-sourced and sustainable timber.

With many of the company’s projects located in rural and remote spaces such as sand dunes, next to rough sea shores, or nestled into woodlands, the challenge to build on these diverse sites is overcome thanks to Carbon Dynamic’s offsite solutions.

Using timber frame and cross-laminated timber (CLT), the shells of the homes are manufactured in Carbon Dynamic’s factory and transported to site to be erected in half the time a traditional build would take. This method of construction leant itself to a social housing scheme in the Highlands. Working with the Highland Council, Carbon Dynamic built eight apartments that average £20 per month in energy bills and were designed with limited mobility residents in mind.

The company specifies timber such as Douglas fir or larch and all windows are manufactured by a local Scottish manufacturer, Treecraft Woodwork. While local wood is used where possible, modified wood is also a popular choice due to its durability, a must with the harsh wind and rain conditions that many of the homes are subject to.

Innovating the traditional

It’s no secret that Scotland has some extreme weather, especially in the Highlands, so houses need to be made with highly durable materials with impressive thermal properties. Also based in Inverness, fellow member of Offsite Solutions Scotland, design and build company Makar is well aware of this. Like Carbon Dynamic, Makar is a sustainability-conscious organisation and believes a home should be healthy too. Therefore, its construction material of choice is wood.

Wood used in buildings is known to improve indoor air quality, lower heartbeat rates for inhabitants and there’s a perception of decreased stress levels too.

Makar admits to being inspired by European alpine countries and Makar-built homes are a nod to Scotland’s topography using timber such as Douglas fir, Scots pine, Scottish-grown larch and Sitka spruce. Passionate about timber innovation, Makar has adapted local timber to create solid timber panels and modified timber.

A shining example of Makar’s work, in association with Neil Sutherland Architects, is Dunsmore House set in woodlands in the Highlands. A unique project, this semi-detached self-build home was created for two families. The house was built using a platform timber frame structural system, prefabricated at Makar’s factory.

Building a new ‘forest culture’

Scotland is making the most of its abundance of timber and is taking this natural building material into the 21st century. So, what is the secret to Scotland’s success and how can the rest of the UK follow suit?

Using land for forestry in Scotland is popular; even farmers have dedicated some of their land to woodland as it can be more profitable than rearing livestock. This enables Scotland to grow its own building materials and create jobs, a win-win for the local economy. According to the Confederation of Forest Industries Confor, this is fostering a new ‘forest culture’ that could be welcomed anywhere in the UK where land is suitable for growing trees.

Campaigns such as Grown in Britain are helping to support woods and forests and their supply chains in England and Wales. TV programme Countryfile and newspaper The Guardian have dedicated airtime and column inches to raising the profile of forestry in England and Wales, but commitment from the UK Government remains weak. However, the Welsh Government recognises the benefit to the local economy and Powys County Council has pledged that all new council house projects should consider wood first, looking to local suppliers. This is further encouraged by the publication of the Welsh Government’s ‘Branching Out’ report, published last year with plans to increase woodland in Wales.

England has shown some promise following the planting of more than 200,000 trees at the Lowther Estate in Cumbria, one of the largest schemes in the country. Assisted by lobbying from Confor, the forest has also created more jobs. Another success story, also lobbied by Confor, is Doddington Moor in Northumberland. This is the largest project in England in 30 years and it is hoped will spur on many more. Since its establishment in 1995, The National Forest in the Midlands has grown and the area has benefited from job creation, increased woodland skills and a lower carbon economy.

While Scotland is leading on innovation in timber housing, with the right levels of support and commitment, these solutions can easily be applied throughout the UK. It’s time for more homegrown homes in England.

Join the discussion at the Superwood Conference being held on Friday 14 December at Northumbria university, hosted by Confor. The conference will look at how forestry and timber can drive a low carbon economy, the opportunities for planting more trees and the lessons that can be learned from Scotland. Register for a ticket.

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