The business of timber frame



From :An Industry Overview by the UK Timber Frame Association. Published in TRADA Timber Industry Yearbook 2002

Currently the UK timber frame industry is in good shape. Volumes are up, existing fabricators are working close to full capacity, and big players are opening new manufacturing facilities, largely in the south and south east of the country, which is proving to be the growth market.

One commentator said “ The success of timber frame – current and future – lies in the characteristics of the system which make it ideal for the volume market and for factory-based, quality controlled production. Housing has been given the Egan Agenda and timber frame is responding and developing accordingly.”

Figures for 2000/2001 compiled by the Timber Frame Industry Association (TFIA) make encouraging reading. Points to note include industry turnover recorded at £246,391,724, units produced at 23,366 and the number employed in the industry now some 2,650.

Looking at types of projects undertaken over 2000/2001, domestic construction up to two storeys accounted for nearly 69 per cent of reported activity, with similar projects over two storeys amounting to 24 per cent of volume. Commercial projects stood at 7 per cent. The profile of timber frame use thus presented has been fairly consistent over recent years – largest volume use in the low rise domestic market; growing use in two storey and over; and a small but significant use of timber frame in commercial projects.

Healthcare facility at Ledbury Hospital. Timber frame supplied by Taylor Lane.

Few industry pundits are anticipating much change in this profile, with the exception of a predicted growth in mid rise timber frame – for most practical purposes in the UK this means up to six storeys. This current and predicted growth in mid rise is partly a response to the very positive outcomes of the DETRA/BRE/industry funded research project into mid rise timber frame, Timber Frame 2000. Now complete, this project reports formally in 2002, and is expected to give a further boost to timber frame use in mid rise construction, particularly in markets already using a lot of timber frame such as student housing, social housing, health care facilities and budget hotels.

TFIA statistics show that the market share for timber frame housing in the UK for 2000/2001 was estimated at some 11.7 per cent. The figure conceals large regional variations – some 60% new build housing penetration in Scotland and some 6% in England and Wales. Predictions for the future are all for growth – “wise heads” settling for a UK figure of some 15% market share in 2002.

Cube Housing Association social housing scheme in Glasgow supplied by Stewart Milne Timber Systems.

Certainly investment in manufacturing capacity in England has been significant – multi million pound factories have opened in Oxfordshire, in Hereford; in Staffordshire; in the West Midlands and in Buckinghamshire, bringing a total potential increased manufacturing capacity of between 16,000 and 18,000 timber frame units per year, on stream in 2002.

While the climate for timber frame is currently very buoyant, any industry overview must take into account the ongoing economic slowdown and the effects this might have on the housing market.

It is anticipated that in the event of such a slowdown, timber frame’s strengths will be vital to it consolidating and growing its market position. These strengths include its ability to deliver factory-engineered quality resulting in: reduced erection time; simplified site skill requirements; reduced post-erection “snagging”; thus improved cash flow for developers.

Timber frame’s energy efficiency and environmental friendliness are also advantageous, making it an economic way for construction professionals to meet new regulations- a key issue in the coming year or two.

The importance of appropriate marketing has been recognised by timber as a sector, and timber frame has, over the last year, linked with and benefited from such generic campaigns as wood.for good. Another major step forward for the industry and a serious asset for unified future marketing for timber frame is the amalgamation of the two trade bodies representing the industry, the TFIA (Timber Frame Industry Association) and T&BC (Timber & Brick Consortium) to create the UK Timber Frame Association – UKTFA.

A demonstration project of social housing on a brownfield site in Reading. Timber frame by Guildway.

The bulk of timber frame’s market will continue to be in “standard” timber frame, with most developments offering refinements of existing products and their delivery systems. Innovative products are however making their way in the market place. And discovering appropriate niches. Success stories include floor and wall panels delivered as cassettes and craned in to place; solid wall panels; and components incorporating innovative insulations.

As the timber frame industry enters 2002, it has it all to play for: a marketplace needing its products; a unified organisation to promote its products to that marketplace; and a manufacturing industry gearing up to deliver those products in volume and with quality – a winning combination for the 21st century,

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