Contractors need to tighten up security on timber frame sites to benefit from a growing number of clients choosing the material, the new chairman of the UK Timber Frame Association told Construction News.
UKTFA chairman Simon Orrells said that he was eager to dispel the myths surrounding timber construction, and called for contractors to speak to timber specialists earlier to ensure that sites were secure before frames were erected.
“The security item on the construction programme for these projects needs to be brought forward,” said Mr Orrells. “Currently, contractors bring in the security once the frames are erect, but this must happen earlier.
“Timber frame sites don’t spontaneously combust. It is the corporate and social responsibility of the contractor to stop arsonists from getting onto these sites.”
A report from the London Assembly’s Planning and Housing Committee published in December 2010 found that, once constructed, timber frame buildings posed no greater fire risk than conventionally constructed buildings. However, the committee raised concerns over the safety of sites during the construction phase.
“We must improve the information available, raise awareness and control the myths surrounding timber construction,” said Mr Orrells.
“We are being proactive by working on best practice and guidance documents and it is mandatory for all UKTFA members to operate under the ‘site safe’ scheme.”
The ‘site safe’ initiative, launched by the UKTFA a year ago, requires timber frame manufacturers to obtain evidence from main contractors and developers to show they have been informed of the short term risks when timber frame panels are under construction on large sites.
The approach is followed up with an audit, often undertaken by a third party health and safety firm, which carries out an onsite assessment of the measures taken to mitigate fire risk.
Many developers, especially the major supermarket chains, believe the risk is manageable, and many have started implementing timber frame construction trials into their procurement schedules.
Tesco chief architect Martin Young told a conference in December that the supermarket giant had a “timber ambition” and would build at least 27 timber framed stores by the year ending February 2011.
“Timber frames mean sustainable design,” he said. “We want to do 27 this year and we have more in the pipeline for 2011/2012. We aren’t looking to use timber frames for every store at this stage, but we do have a timber ambition.”
According to the UKTFA, timber manufacturers now hold a 50 per cent market share in social housing and a 25 per cent share in the national housing market. Mr Orrells said this was due to social housing clients looking at the lifetime cost of houses.
“Timber is cost-neutral when priced on a like-for-like basis but, clearly, social housing landlords will be much more interested in the lifetime cost of a building than a private developer that will sell off its stock,” he said.
“When you look at the structural and thermal savings made over the lifetime of a timber house, the benefits become clear - we just need to inform those who always revert to what they know best.”
UKTFA members use farmed timber from Scandinavia and North America on a rotation basis in order to mitigate the negative effects of cutting down trees.
Mr Orrells said the UKTFA was replacing what it cuts down on average by the land mass of Cyprus each year.