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Timber specs set to grow

MATERIALS Timber frame will challenge concrete and steel in construction of taller buildings in 10 years, says BRE

TIMBER will challenge the dominance of concrete and steel in medium-rise multistorey buildings in the next 10 years, according to researchers at BRE.

They claim a new design guide, MultiStorey Timber Frame Buildings, will promote massive growth in the design and specification of timber frame products for multistorey developments.

Dr Vahik Enjily, BRE's timber technology centre manager, said the guide would help improve the image and use of timber in multistorey applications by ensuring clients and designers were comfortable with using the material.

He said: 'In the past timber has lagged behind steel and concrete because designers have not had the confidence to specify it. Timber can and does comply with all relevant building regulations.'

The guide covers workmanship issues, structural stability and fire-resistance based on data from the TF2000 project, in which a six-storey timber framed structure was built at BRE's Cardington facility and put through several tests including fire loading and element redundancy.

Dr Enjily said: 'Various research programmes were carried out under TF2000 and the guide details best practice for disproportionate collapse, differential movement and fire safety.'

Although he agreed many clients would be most concerned about timber's perceived weakness against fire-resistance, Dr Enjily insisted that the material was no more open to attack than other materials.

He said: 'Problems with defective installation can affect all materials, not just timber. The report highlights practices that require special attention regardless of building material.'

According to Dr Enjily the attitude among designers for specifying timber in multi-storey structures has become more positive over the past 10 years and only the building regulations limit the scale of structures that can be erected using the material.

He claimed: 'Designers' attitudes have changed immensely over the past few years. The building regulations specify a maximum height of 18 m for 1 hour of fire-resistance. Within 10 years I think timber will be vying with steel and concrete as the material of choice.'

But Derek Tordoff, British Construction Steelwork Association director, thought the timber sector would be unlikely to reach the volumes enjoyed by steel.

He said: 'Current timber volumes in the multi-storey market are very small.

In reality I do not think it would be able to challenge over such a timescale.'