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Viewpoint - Timber will become norm for homes

AGENDA - Philip Davies explains why Linden Homes switched to timber frame

OUR SOUTH-east division has implemented a major change in the way it builds homes over the past three years, moving from traditional brick and block construction methods to mainly timber frame on 95 per cent of all its projected homes in 2007.

We had two primary objectives in doing this: to improve our build times and increase reliability on completion dates for our customer; and to continue to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. Timber frame has enabled us to achieve both these goals, while keeping the end result looking much the same as masonry construction from the outside.

Although it appears initially more expensive than masonry construction, we have made savings through delivering homes more quickly, rationalising components and spending less time on site.

Because house building is heavily reliant on good weather conditions it can be subject to building delays on site. But, since timber frame is delivered to site and erected in one day, with roofs on in less than two days, this risk factor is virtually eliminated.

The standard of the build is also greatly improved, as much of the manufacture takes place off-site within stringent factory-controlled conditions and can be subjected to increased quality control. By reducing work on site, timber frame also lends itself well to smaller, inner-city developments, where there is limited space for materials and waste.

For specialist brownfield developers like ourselves this is a huge benefit, allowing us to make the best possible use of limited space during construction and eliminating a large proportion of our on-site storage.

The environmental impact of our house building is increasingly at the top of our agenda and we have made a number of public commitments in our new Green Code this autumn concerning the energy-efficiency of our homes. One such commitment guarantees that every Linden home will benefit from insulation that is 15 per cent higher than current building regulations, and I believe timber frame construction enables us to meet this challenge.

The walls are packed with high levels of insulation, making them extremely thermally efficient as well as significantly reducing the noise that passes between dwellings.

Timber frame enables us to be confident in meeting our own insulation targets. All our structural timber comes from certified sources, where forest management is effectively controlled and managed with minimal long-term impact on the environment.

The benefits to our customers are so considerable that we believe it will ultimately enhance our reputation as the best for quality of build and customer service, delivering highly energy-efficient new homes within guaranteed timeframes.

As the energy-efficiency of our homes is highlighted with the implementation of Energy Performance Certificates in housing information packs from June next year, the issue of insulation will register more prominently on home buyers' radars. The high performance of timber-framed homes will help to make it something people are asking for, rather than simply buying without any knowledge of the benefits.

Our south-east division has made a significant investment with the leading timber frame companies and, while our other three regional divisions are still using a mixture of masonry and timber frame, I would expect to see a significant shift towards timber frame over the next year or two. I am confident other developers will follow suit, mak ing it the norm in five years' time.