We are delighted to announce that Donaldson Timber Systems (DTS) has secured a position on the Off-Site Homes Alliance (OSHA) national construction framework for volumetric (CAT 1) and panelised (CAT 2) Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). The framework is valued at £2 billion. DTS will deliver offsite timber panelised system build for Category 2 housing over four years.

Working closely with 23 local authorities and housing associations nationally, DTS will design, manufacture and install timber frame wall panel building systems that meet build speed, fabric performance, building design and cost requirements. With a fabric-first approach that achieves net zero operational carbon, housing providers can use DTS’ timber systems to create sustainable, resilient, and affordable homes that meet the Future Homes Standard.

Earlier this year, DTS became one of the first manufacturers to achieve Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme Plus (BOPAS Plus) in recognition of the quality and durability of its offsite build systems. With DTS’ state-of-the-art open and closed panelised systems – Alpha, Delta or Sigma ll – works can still be carried out on site, ensuring that social value potential is reached within the communities served.

Mike Perry, Business Development Director, Donaldson Timber Systems, said: “By securing a position on the OSHA MMC Cat 1 and Cat 2 Framework, we can build upon our strong relationship with affordable housing providers nationally and bring them along on DTS’ timber frame, fabric-first journey.

“We look forward to facilitating greater efficiency and value for clients who procure via this framework, and supporting OSHA’s mission to deliver 20,000 homes with MMC technology.”

Matthew Harrison, Chief Executive of OSHA member Great Places Housing Group, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Donaldson Timber Systems on the new OSHA framework. We’re confident they will be able to work with us and the OSHA clients in delivering the sector’s extensive development ambitions. We were pleased with the positive response from the market and received high quality proposals and substantial social value pledges for our communities. We are now looking forward to mobilising the framework and working together on new projects to realise our ambitions of delivering much-needed affordable homes.”


The Price of Timber

February 1, 2021

Predicting future material prices can be an art at the best of times but the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created has made this task much more difficult over recent months. As most business strategies depend on some forecast of the future, this type of market disturbance can throw us off track, affect our ability to predict market movements and create supply problems for some organisations.

Over recent months we have seen significant price increases across a number of building materials with steel experiencing rises of up to 40% and core materials such as roof tiles being in short supply. Timber has also been affected.

Timber is a global commodity. The specific Scandinavian construction grade that we are interested in even more so. Those that produce and sell timber will obviously look for the best return for their shareholders and try to take advantage of any market disturbance. Add this to usual vagaries of supply, both old and new:

  • Timber pulp markets need to be stable to facilitate harvesting and outlets for sawmill by-products;
  • The weather in Scandinavia needs to be right to maximise and make easy the harvesting of logs i.e. a nice long cold winter;
  • A forest free from infestation allows strategic, pragmatic harvesting in the right areas to create a sustainable raw material source for sawmillers;
  • The free flow and availability of vessels to ship goods to the end destination must be in place.

All of these elements have the potential of impacting on the supply of timber and all have played their part during our prolonged periods of lockdown. After some hefty increases over the past twelve months, the heat still hasn’t yet come out of the market, but as we move through the year, we expect prices to cool. History tells us that timber will always find a price level and end use within the available qualities, grades and specifications brought to market and that producers will rise to the challenge in volumes.

From a Stewart Milne Timber Systems point of view, we enjoy long term relationships with our core supply chain, with some dating back over 40 years. With this comes a commitment of volume giving us confidence in our ability to continue to serve our clients, meet our programmes and maintain our business growth.

2020 will rightly be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic but could also be remembered as the year that no one, not even the most outrageous of industry pundits, predicted the effect on material prices. However we remain confident that our scale and capabilities will ensure that any effect on our ability to supply remains highly predictable.

The global pandemic will have a wide-reaching impact on us all. It is difficult to see how any industry sector will come through this unscathed and without re-examining how to do things differently. What will be important is that we emerge stronger and more resilient, and open to new innovative ways of working.
As the house building industry begins to return to work, sites re-open, and companies re-examine their business strategies and models, it will become even more important to embrace new technologies and processes to ensure the restart and future development of the sector is done in a way that it can thrive long term.
With most construction sites having been on pause, efficient delivery will be vital as the industry restarts and grows. Particularly as the demand for more high quality, cost effective housing, that can be quickly and efficiently built, has never been more acute and will only build going forward.
During this global health crisis, our homes have provided a safe haven, a place to work and for many, a place of education. The need to deliver more homes, quickly and cost effectively will be essential in tackling the growing UK housing crisis, but it is vital that we are not simply back building, but instead building better homes.

Key to this will be to embrace modern methods of construction, such as panelised offsite construction systems and efficient construction, in a more integrated way capitalising on digital technologies and advanced manufacturing.

The Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) project started 18 months ago to trial solutions that could help to tackle the UK housing crisis by mainstreaming the use of these methods and lean technologies.

At that time, the consortium set out to transform how the construction industry builds homes to meet current and future demands.  Today we are almost halfway through the three-year project, and more than ever we are convinced that modern methods of construction, such as offsite panelised systems and digital working, offer unrivalled benefits, especially as we find our way through and out of this current crisis.

Getting back to work

The fast delivery of much-needed housing is critical.  However as the industry reopens, construction sites face operational restrictions.

With less labour resource onsite, the potential reduction in the supply of materials, coupled with the physical challenges of getting them onsite, and maintaining social distancing safety measures, it will be some time before productivity is at the level is was pre-lockdown, never mind the level it needs to be at to tackle the growing UK housing crisis.

Offsite panelised construction offers a way forward and a safe viable solution, which is less labour intensive, with fewer personnel on site, unlike traditional building methods.

As part of the AIMCH project pre COVID-19, partners have been undertaking productivity measurement studies, using time and motion and more innovative blue-tooth enabled tracking of operatives to monitor site efficiency or traditional and a variety of MMC systems. This technology has potential to monitor safe social distancing, providing useful data on worker compliance social distancing and site operating guidelines.

Bringing panelised offsite systems on to sites can also aid a quicker and more efficient delivery of homes. AIMCH has been assessing the benefits of standardisation. Through research studies, the partners are now developing a suite of standardised product families, that can be configured and used within future housing pattern books. Providing a digitally enabled efficient and cost effective home designs that can be built fast, to higher quality standards and with less labour input. Homes can be externally finished using conventional materials, to provide robust, durable and beautiful homes, to suit any planning or aesthetic requirement.

Modern methods of construction, such as offsite panelised building systems, helps business recover through securing a more integrated and robust supply chain, by adopting a manufacturing led approach, which can be scaled up quickly to meet demand.

The AIMCH project has utilised automotive learning from around the world, to develop advanced manufacturing approaches, such as simulation, to build a model of the ‘future offsite factory’ where digital technology and automation, such as robotics, drives productivity lowering production costs and increasing capacity. The mathematical model and simulation program under development, will enable robust assessment and validation of future MMC investments, which will be crucial as the industry, housebuilders and businesses reset, recover and re-plan the future, during these uncertain economic times post COVID-19.

Through industrialising housing, embracing modern methods of construction, AIMCH solution will help attract new talent with digital, logistics, engineering, design, robotics and project management skills, making the sector more appealing to a wider employee pool.  With more automation in a factory setting, digital working, integrated supply chains, lean construction assembly and with staff collaborating with onsite teams, the greater efficiencies achieved will support the construction of the additional 120,000 homes needed each year to address the UK housing shortage. That’s a challenge that the housebuilding sector simply can’t meet using traditional construction methods alone.

By offering integrated supply chain solutions, increased efficiencies, greater collaboration, increased productivity and commercially competitive mainstream offsite panelised construction methods, the AIMCH project has a significant role to play in the post-COVID recovery with offsite construction becoming the new normal in the sector.


Building towards a Zero-Carbon Future

August 18, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed major challenges for the industry, it has also offered opportunities to consider the adoption of fresh initiatives that drive better efficiency.
Currently, the UK needs new housing stock built quickly and at volume, all while meeting heightened green targets and delivering significant cost savings.

As a meaningful solution, timber frame construction offers considerable benefits in each of those areas. Not only is it beneficial to housebuilders but building in timber contributes to the UK’s commitment to combat climate change while improving heat retention and reducing CO2 emissions within new homes.

In growth through photosynthesis, timber absorbs carbon from the atmosphere which would otherwise add to the greenhouse effect. Europe’s 400 billion trees currently absorb almost nine per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, use of timber in a building will store the carbon for the life cycle of that building.

Timber frames draw in carbon from the atmosphere and store it, with the largest potential for this achieved in external walls, intermediate floors, and roof structures. In fact, on average, replacing just one cubic metre of concrete with timber in construction can save a tonne of CO2 emissions.
Arguably, the better news is that it takes very little energy to convert the wood from trees to the timber used in building. This means that the embodied energy in timber is low. Indeed, it is the lowest of almost all common building materials.

Timber continues to perform well when compared directly with other materials. Life cycle studies of timber frame homes show that they significantly outperform alternatives – timber saves about 40 per cent of carbon emissions in comparison to concrete and about 30 per cent compared to steel. According to the Committee on Climate Change, “Using wood in construction to displace high-carbon materials such as cement and steel is one of the most effective ways to use limited biomass resources to mitigate climate change.”

With the industry under pressure to deliver improved energy efficiency and the market expected to be fragile for some time following the effects of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that we identify methods by which to achieve government targets and uplift the new green economy – and timber frame construction must undoubtedly be considered a leading example.

The Housing Association L&Q (London & Quadrant) are working with offsite manufacturer Stewart Milne Timber Systems to build efficiently-insulated homes for their homeowners and tenants using the award-winning Sigma® II timber frame build system.

The rising cost of running a home set against a backdrop of economic uncertainty is a growing issue, now more so than ever before, as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that approximately 3.5 million households in the UK are classed as being in fuel poverty. While these figures from 2017 are the lowest since 2005-06, it is evident there is still more to be done. And with budgets likely to tighten even further over the coming months, it comes as no surprise that household running costs are a key consideration for homebuyers across the country.

Sustainable building used to be the exception rather than the rule, but the fact that buyer attitudes are shifting is forcing housebuilders to act. If they want to attract budget-conscious buyers, housebuilders now need to consider how to appeal to buyers who wish to reduce their overall living costs.
Offsite timber frame construction provides a building with a superior thermal envelope, requiring minimal maintenance and a “fit-and-forget” solution for the lifetime of the building. For a home to be energy efficient, it must be well insulated and as airtight as possible. With timber construction retaining and reducing heat demand, the resulting building contributes quite considerably to reducing fuel poverty as heating bills tend to be lower, and the house warmer.
Scotland is set to begin working with the construction sector to develop regulations which will ensure new homes consented from 2024, a year ahead of the rest of the UK, are required to use renewable or low carbon heat in a bid to further reduce fuel poverty, in line with the UK’s recent legislation to tackle the root causes of fuel poverty by 2040. What about climate change will it contribute towards that?

In the South of England, Milton Keynes and Stratford-upon-Avon, the Housing Association L&Q (London & Quadrant) are working with offsite manufacturer Stewart Milne Timber Systems to build efficiently-insulated homes for their homeowners and tenants using the award-winning Sigma® II timber frame build system. Using this system means that building performance is improved with better heat retention and subsequently reduced energy demand, resulting in a fuel-efficient dwelling. The Sigma® II system takes “whole life costing” into account as well as risk and home owner impact.
When building with timber frame, a home can be designed as one integrated system with a fabric-first approach and energy efficiency locked into the home’s core; reducing the need for renewables, or wider newer technologies to be added on at a later date. Ultimately, this will save the home-owners money and give them peace of mind in delivery of energy performance. Timber frame homes have a track record of superior energy efficiency and low embodied carbon. The homes are naturally warm in winter and yet cool in the summer, allowing residents to enjoy significantly lower heating bills overall.

The introduction of the Future Homes Standard by 2025 will help ensure new build homes are future-proofed with low-carbon heat and power as well as world-leading levels of energy efficiency – thus, tying in with the Chancellor’s pledge to reduce the use of fossil fuel in homes by 2025

As we look to the future, building in timber frame, combined with a fabric-first approach, will be the most effective means of meeting major housebuilding and net-zero carbon targets sustainably. Not only is it affordable, but it also reduces long-term maintenance, while positively impacting the social agenda with more efficient homes, reducing energy bills for tenants and thereby contributing to housing associations drive to decrease fuel poverty.

How timber frame manufacturing and offsite construction can work with modular housing to meet housing demand targets – Simon Horn discusses why offsite construction utilising timber frame as the external wall fabric and overall structural solution is key to meeting sustainability targets.

UK-wide demand for new homes continues to rise amid major government targets that underline a heightened need for greater efficiency and sustainability to be achieved.

With England alone needing up to 345,000 new homes annually, it’s clear that fresh, innovative solutions that disrupt the market are required to bridge that significant gap.

While the total housing stock in England increased by around 241,000 homes in 2018/19, that figure was still some way short of the estimated need, and Housing Minister Robert Jenrick’s pledge to ‘get Britain building’ has so far failed to translate into firm action.

Nevertheless, the government recently unveiled plans to revamp the planning system in a document entitled ‘Planning for the Future’, with Mr Jenrick calling it an opportunity to “think boldly and creatively about the planning system to make it fit for the future”.

Those changes should make it easier for developers to demolish vacant buildings, or old disused garages-on-block’ and build new homes in their place.
With demand showing no sign of slowing, the key challenge for the industry is how it can achieve the required volume in a cost-effective and sustainable manner, while maintaining quality and profitability.

Many solutions have been offered, but offsite construction represents a strong fit for a multifaceted situation, bringing a wide spectrum of benefits to housebuilders, from accelerating the construction process, to reducing costs, increasing sustainability and reducing health and safety issues.

While the industrialisation of housebuilding that offsite construction presents is a significant opportunity to drive greater affordability which can be passed on to the house buyer, we still need to see a dedicated move away from masonry construction to a greater embracing of timber frame buildings and prefabricated modular homes.

The potential for both of these modern methods of construction is vast.

Benefits of timber frame and modular homes

Many believe offsite construction will overtake traditional onsite methods due to sustainability factors – with panellised and modular homes being made from recyclable materials and using up to 67% less energy in the building process than equivalent traditional onsite builds.

Meanwhile, timber frame allows for greater flexibility in design and, as a sustainable material, is cost effective, together with aiding the effort to reduce construction’s carbon footprint.

Built offsite in a factory, with fittings included, modular homes can be installed on site significantly faster than other methods of housing construction. As such, both modular homes and timber frame homes work very well alongside each other, complementing off-site manufacturing.

Furthermore, on larger proposed developments, there is likely to be an improved benefit for the construction phase planning, providing better delivery of housing at scale and therefore delivering competitive pricing.

Offsite construction

Offsite construction offers a tried and tested method of building homes with higher quality and which comply with a variety of performance standards. It also reduces the amount of additional labour on site and simultaneously heightens both cost effectiveness and delivery capacity.

In essence, offsite construction can significantly reduce both labour and material costs, with less reliance on trade skills and multiple suppliers. Shorter build of the main structures will also reduce the management required to supervise and co-ordinate the on-site contractors, improving working efficiency. The more rigid design constraints of modular housing can be restrictive at times, compared to those of panellised timber frame homes which can often allow a greater amount of design flexibility.

While neither modular nor panellised timber frame housing alone will be completely suitable for every site or building design, i.e. height restrictions in timber frame, or site constraints for modular homes, a combination of both does have advantages in driving building efficiency and quality.

Using a sustainable material as timber is, also provides the ability to drive down carbon emissions and move to a lower carbon industry. The offsite construction of timber frame provides the building with a superior thermal envelope, that will require minimal maintenance and enable a fit-and-forget solution for the lifetime of the building. Building performance is improved with better heat retention and subsequently reduced energy demand, resulting in a fuel efficient dwelling.

Financially, the accelerated build time of offsite construction delivers as well, providing a quicker return on capital outlay, and lower site preliminaries expenditure, by up to 30%.

Across the UK we have the capacity to produce around 10,000 timber frame homes per year. That ability to manufacture offsite means we can build 10 typical blocks of 2-storey housing in terraces of 3-4 units, five weeks earlier than if building with masonry, or other on-site solutions. A further example of construction time benefit would be a typical four-bedroom detached home, which could be erected, wind protected, and made watertight in as little as five days.

With major housing targets continuously on the rise, such innovation must be considered a vital solution, particularly as it contributes to a more efficient, sustainable, high-quality and cost-effective housing sector.

With that in mind, we invest significantly in research and development: we have a Centre of Excellence at our Witney automated facility, and we partner with various house builders and constructors to develop new products to bring to market that, in turn, will deliver better homes for the future.

When housebuilders engage with us to develop timber frame solutions for their projects, we consider it essential to get involved from the earliest stages, enabling us to value engineer the designs; work with client construction teams to improve build programmes; generally deliver project efficiencies; and ultimately reduce costs.

One of our most successful product innovations is our award-winning Sigma II Build System – a closed panel system that is BBA Certified, able to be built to six storeys structurally and delivers performance standards to BREAAM Excellent. The Sigma II Build System has also just received the Housebuilder HBF 2020 Product Award, in recognition of performance and quality.

Fundamentally, Stewart Milne Timber Systems offer a tried and tested way of building, using timber frame components manufactured in factory-controlled environments – similar to modular homes providers, but with greater flexibility and no constraints on capacity.

Offsite manufacture also supports housebuilders at a time when the skills shortage threatens growth, and material cost increases in some areas puts pressure on profits. Stewart Milne Timber Systems has a long-term sustainable material supply through direct partnerships with the timber produces, as well as strong partnerships throughout our supply chain. Add to this the on-site efficiency off-site brings, it is the solution to the housing demand.

Home-owners will also want a property that meets their needs at varying life stages – so that means one that will last and requires low maintenance, at the same time as being able to be easily adapted if required in future years. Timber frame does just that.

Using timber frame construction, a home can be designed as one integrated system with a fabric-first approach and energy efficiency locked into the home’s core; reducing the need for other micro-renewables, or wider newer technologies to be added later. Ultimately, this will save the home-owners money and gives them peace of mind in delivery of energy performance.

Amid wide industry demand for increased production, it is critical that low carbon sustainability remains at the forefront of developers’ minds – and by placing a greater onus on the building fabric, together with ensuring careful selection of construction method, sustainability targets can be met.

Taking a ‘fabric-first’ approach and applying offsite construction methods, is a proven vehicle for ensuring that sustainability compliance is part of the building process – from the materials, to construction, and the remainder of its lifecycle.

Why timber?

On average, timber frame homes can be built in lower timescales than traditional masonry construction methods, while the material’s renewable low carbon credentials are much stronger. It is also readily available and economically viable.

For every tree used in the construction of a timber frame home, more are planted. Masonry construction with bricks and blocks is certainly not as viable for a low-carbon future, being more time-intensive and non-renewable.

Timber frame homes have a track record of superior energy efficiency and low embodied carbon. The homes are naturally warm in winter and yet still cool in summer, allowing residents to enjoy significantly lower heating bills overall.

Ultimately, offsite timber frame construction can provide housebuilders with many of the answers – but it is true collaboration within the industry which will be crucial in helping solve the climate crisis.

However, with so many positive elements to this timely transition, the UK can lead the way in an exciting new offsite industry – and it is an opportunity that must be fully embraced.