Why booming UK timber imports are good news for the construction sector

Published Thursday 25th September 2014


Despite a number of supply constraints affecting the European timber market earlier this year, the construction trade is still flourishing. Following the recession, many building opportunities weren't taken to fruition due to the housing market going awry.


Regardless of this, over the last couple of years, timber has become even more of a favourite for tradesmen. In this guide, we'll examine some of the reasons behind the trend and spell out why booming timber imports are good news for the UK construction sector.


Timber imports


Figures show that back in 2012, the amount of timber products being used by construction companies dropped by around 8% - showing that the demand for timber was far from high. The difference in the economy in and around Europe today highlights the dramatic change in import figures from then to now.


Statistics show that by September 2013, import numbers for all timber and panel products rose to a huge 34.5% (11 million green tonnes of roundwood softwood and hardwood delivered to the UK in 2013). With the construction sector also on the up, the increase in number of imports shows how the infrastructure of buildings today are a lot more reliant on wood materials rather than the common brick.


Along with other countries, many Australian builders can routinely construct a 100sqm building in just seven days. Timber, being the most environmentally-friendly building product, also provides a light-weight, responsive alternative to steel or brick.


The use of timber in house building


Timber frame housing is becoming progressively popular, and with an increased focus on sustainability and cost levels, the use of timber frames is continually rising. Figures show that the market share for this much-loved material rose from 8% in 1998 to 25% in 2008. Since the chronic housing crisis has cooled off, a flurry of planning permissions have been granted and the construction trade is said to be back on track. Output is predicted to rise by 4.5% in 2014 and a further 4.8% in 2015. An additional 18% by 2017 is expected to contribute a massive £20 billion to the UK economy.


After the recent economic turbulence in the UK, interest rates are still low, whilst housing prices are steadily increasing. With house building gradually on the up, and the UK construction industry hiring at the fastest rate since 1997 - it's safe to say, new housing developments are soaring. The latest housing schemes and funding towards affordable homes have contributed to the increase in demand for timber in the last few years and England being in huge demand for timber the boom in imports this year, is just what was needed.


Why is timber frame a popular choice in construction?


We're all used to seeing houses being built with the regular brick-and-mortar, but in the architectural world, timber is pushing through as a new favourite. When it comes to using timber frame, its strengths are enough to shy any contractor away from the traditional block build. It's easy to use, more time-effective to work with than concrete or steel and cheap. What more could you ask for?


Obviously, traders will have their own opinions on which materials are more beneficial and there'll always be pros and cons to every choice, but with timber having so many great benefits it's hard not to love it. Five of the most commonly-cited attributes of timber frame are:


·       Cost: With timber being in great supply and construction companies aiming to save      money, wood stands as an attractive option

·       Environmentally friendly: – Wood's ecological credentials are another huge benefit for builders. And sustainability is an ever-increasing concern in the industry

·       Better thermal insulation

·       Ease of use: in comparison to brick and steel, it's an overall easier choice to work with

·       Timely: Using timber frame as a basis for a building can reduce construction time to seven to ten days, rather than weeks. Also, as us Brits know, we don't always get the ideal weather for construction work. Unlike mortar or plaster, timber does not require any drying time so work can be commenced and finished much more quickly and undertaken in most weather conditions.

What does the future look like for timber in construction?


With Scotland now using timber frame for 75% of new builds this year and the UK showing signs of following suit, timber is set to becoming an ever-more popular material on British construction sites.


As the government continues in its attempt to fill the desperate housing shortage, local authorities will look to timber as a way of supplying affordable homes that are cost-effective to live in and which can be built in around half the time of a traditional brick-constructed home.  


The timber and construction industries are always changing, and bearing what we've said in mind, we believe that the future looks bright for both timber merchants and builders. And the increasing use of timber could positively benefit the UK economy and way of living for people in Britain in years to come.


If you think we've missed anything or you'd like to add to the debate, drop us a line on Twitter we always love to hear your views.


And if you would like any more information on timber frame or any of the other topics mentioned here, be sure to contact one of our expert team members today!

Image used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons