Why the UK needs to commit to MMC and sustainable timber construction
MMC has made great strides in the UK. But with legally binding carbon reduction targets looming, Britain needs to commit to sustainable construction materials like timber. Prized for its ability to capture carbon, timber construction is a serious alternative to using steel and cement.
In fact, using timber is one of the most effective ways to mitigate climate change and reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry. This is currently estimated to top 40% of global emissions with 11% from glass, steel and cement alone.
But it's not enough that timber efficiently locks away carbon. It also needs to be sourced sustainably to give reassurance that it causes no harm to the environment through its full lifespan. Timber from an FSC certified supply chain or with Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification is a guarantee that materials have come from forests that are protected and managed sustainably.
But construction can go further, sourcing their sustainable timber from suppliers who are certified and work to the highest levels of quality assurance under the ISO 9001 Standard.
Offsite construction and timber are an excellent fit. For example, timber construction company Scotframe use MMC methods to ensure that waste is minimised throughout the manufacturing process from design to onsite installation. Making the right decisions in material procurement and manufacture typically reduce waste to under 2%.
Where timber construction truly shines is its energy efficiency. By taking a fabric first approach to construction and making sustainable choices at the design stage, a timber-framed home is an innovative way to tackle the challenges of net-carbon zero.
Fabric first prioritises airtightness and insulation over renewable energy sources or heating. While there are challenges to adopting such an approach for homes at scale, the long-term energy efficiency and lower running costs make fabric first the sustainable choice. Considerable savings are made over the lifetime of a home created using panelled construction for walls, floors and roofs when compared to homes that use costly renewable technology including smart meters, solar panels and battery storage systems.
Measures to move towards this construction method include linking a home's energy performance to land and building transaction tax, in a way familiar to the tax treatment of electric and energy-efficient cars.
A long-term solution?
Timber frame construction has long been touted as a solution to the housing crisis, with Scotland building 83% of new homes with timber frame construction as compared to just 23% in the UK. Offsite construction systems are ideally placed to lead the switch to timber frame and the fabric first approach. For example, Scotframe's Val-U-Therm Plus closed panel system reduces heating costs to less than £100 per year and is virtually carbon zero.
Fabric first is also more sustainable for homeowners who aren't required to alter their energy consumption habits or master complex new technology for best results. Instead, the building does the work rather than an expensive bolt-on renewables system.
A timber-framed building can continue to perform to the highest and most efficient standards for years to come. And could ultimately offer the sustainable solution that the construction industry needs as we move towards 2050.