Timber frame offers a solution to the need for more homes to accommodate the extra 5.3m households government figures predict over the next quarter century.

Government household growth projections point to timber frame solution

Published:  05 August, 2016

The release this summer of government projections suggesting the number of households in England will rise by 5.3m over the next quarter of a century has prompted Matthew King, UK and Ireland director of Actis, to propose a viable approach to ensuring we have enough homes to accommodate the growing population.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) figures released this month (August 2916) indicating that the number of households in England is projected to increase at an average of 210,000 a year between 2014 and 2039 are the latest indicator of the need to both attract more skilled tradespeople into the construction industry and focus on building homes which are quicker to construct.

The DCLG report ‘2014-based Household Projections: England, 2014-2039’ predicts that the number of households will increase by 23% from 22.7m in 2014 to 28.0m in 23 years time, with average household sizes falling from 2.35 in 2014 to 2.21 in 2039.

The bulk of the increase is down to a greater life expectancy and the growing number of elderly people living alone, which accounts for 74% of the projected increase, while the total of one person households, regardless of age, accounts for 33%. Net migration is projected to account for 37% of the growth, while birth rate has practically no effect.

Other trends expected to contribute the increase in the number of households include a growth in multi person adult households, which will account for 17% of the growth.

The report is based on long-term demographic trends, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures and the 2011 census.

While the government stresses the projections are not forecasts and don’t - indeed can’t yet - take into account any post-Brexit changes, the fact remains that there will be growth of some sort. Even if net migration was at the lowest of the selection of forecasts projected by the ONS, we would have an additional 177,000 households a year. So whichever way we look at it we need more houses.

Encouraging more people to consider careers in housebuilding is of course key to helping us address this shortfall. But in tandem with this we need to seriously concentrate on upping the number of quicker to build – yet still good quality – homes.

Timber frame homes have a typically far shorter construction period than their brick and block equivalents. Creating the panels and associated services offsite is far quicker, while the on-site component requires around 20% fewer labour days than a traditional build. The added benefit that the skilled element (bricklaying for example) represents a smaller percentage of the overall build time frees up more skilled man hours which can be spent on building the next property, and so on.

As well as being largely non-weather dependent, much of the construction, including wiring, plumbing and insulation, takes place off-site. Indeed some insulation systems, such as Actis Hybrid, can be installed effectively with ease by someone who has had minimal training. As these three in one systems are quicker to install than traditional insulation, with builders reporting timesavings of 25 to 50%, this in turn, also frees up more man hours.

New construction methods mean the quality of a closed panel timber frame house is often more thermally efficient than a traditionally constructed building. So moving towards a greater reliance on timber frame is by no means a compromise.

The Structural Timber Association expects the timber frame market in the UK to account for 27% of new housing by 2017. It would be interesting to see their predictions for the coming 23 years in the light of the DCLG report.

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