22 October 2021

Structural timber: delivering quality and sustainability assurances

TRADA image

Foundations for timber frame structures can be built at a lower cost and less environmental impact due to the lightweight nature of the structure. Photo: Stewart Milne.


The Committee on Climate Change has advised the Government to use the coronavirus crisis as a catalyst for reducing the construction industry’s carbon emissions and called for ministers to seize the opportunity to make the industry greener.


Andrew Carpenter discusses how structural timber systems can help the UK construction industry deliver both quality and sustainability assurances.


The world has woken up to the detrimental impact that we are having on the planet. Now is the time to invest in building in timber for not only safeguarding the environment and reaching net zero carbon targets, but also to deliver predictability of quality and performance.


This is a massive opportunity for the UK to make a sizable change and opt for more sustainable building technologies. There is now real positivity around our sector. Structural timber systems are acknowledged as one of the optimum construction solutions in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.


Reducing carbon emissions

Trees are at the heart of the climate change debate. Once carbon sequestration was a natural phenomenon only understood by scientists, but this has changed and terms such as ‘carbon sink’ are commonly used in construction. Commercially managed woodlands sequester a third more carbon dioxide than wild forests – so the growing of timber for use in construction is vital in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.


Build process

Modern timber frame structures are precision-engineered, strong and durable. The build method relies on a factory-manufactured timber frame as a means of structural support – carrying the loads imposed by the floors and roofs – before transmitting them to the foundations. The foundations for timber frame structures can be built at a lower cost and less environmental impact due to the lightweight nature of the structure.


Timber frame construction uses factory-manufactured wall panels, floor panels and roof panels. The systems used are classified as either open panel, closed panel or structural insulated panels (SIPS). In open panel timber frame structures, the open panel system provides the structural frame, to which site-installed insulation, services and plasterboard elements are added. In closed panel timber frame buildings, the structural frame is the same as an ‘open panel’ construction, but includes factory-fitted insulation and inner sheathing boards to close off the panel. Finally, the SIPs building method uses timber panels, which are bonded to insulation to provide structural strength.



Around three quarters of all new homes in Scotland are built using structural timber, but England is lagging behind with just a quarter of all new homes being built using structural timber.


Structural timber is now used by every sector of the construction industry, due to timber’s superb environment credentials – reducing energy consumption across the lifetime of the building, as well as being quick and easy to construct.


Quality and accountability

Structural timber is not only about sustainability. The messages from the Hackitt Review findings mean that the construction industry needs more accountability surrounding the build process. The final report, ‘Building a Safer Future’, outlines ‘the golden thread’ – a new vision for the building control process, with the aim of increasing productivity, reducing costs and ensuring quality developments.


Quality assurances should be an end-to-end process, and competency and compliance are crucial in achieving excellent standards across all construction projects.  



Timber architecture is having its moment; however, it is going to be far greater than that. It is a trend that has major potential for the future of building design and development. Continuous technical developments and the need for sustainable management of resources are further reasons why timber systems are proving to be the material of choice.


Now is the time to invest in building in timber; for the prosperity of the country and its residents, for employment, for the economy and – ultimately – for safeguarding the environment, today and tomorrow.


About the author

Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive, Structural Timber Association (STA).


This is an extract from the Timber 2021 Industry Yearbook. Download the full article, which includes further reading and information, here