Engineered Timber: For Social Good
Over the past few months, I’ve blogged at length on the benefits of engineered timber yet possibly one of the least talked about benefits is the social benefit.
As we’ve discussed, engineered timber can be an economical choice as well as environmentally friendly and more resilient to earthquakes than say concrete. It’s that first point – the bit about engineered timber being economical – that could provide the biggest social benefits.
So what exactly does engineered timber (cross-laminated timber, glulam and LVL) offer social housing? Well, the list is simply but impactful:
- Superior structural frame,
- Product with a lifespan greater than 50 years
- Provides airtight construction together with moisture control reduces energy requirements
- Where surfaces are exposed provides natural calming environment and provides direct fix surface
- On-site construction programmes can be reduced and fewer workers are required on site
- Recyclable product (unscrew and reuse)
- Stored Co2 benefits
- Building costs in NZ are rising, across the board. Ultimately this impacts on social housing. An option for NZ is to invest more in engineered timber as a solution for social housing. Canada, Europe and Australia have already started this journey creating multi-storey units of affordable housing, up to 12 stories in height. Interestingly UBC Brock Commons, in Vancouver, BC set a new record with a hybrid construction of 18 stories to house 400 students.
In Australia, contractors Strongbuild completed MacArthur Gardens, a CLT structure of 3 towers being 6 to 8 stories high and providing 101 Residential units in Campbelltown, NSW for key workers such as police, teachers, nurses and firefighters.
Engineered timber would allow us to move from an assumed low-cost/ low-quality model for social housing to a cost-neutral/ high-quality model. The flow on effect of strong buildings that help to conserve energy is obvious; greater lifespan; less mould, less mildew, warmer homes, healthier people within with reduced energy requirements and reduced heating bills.
Happily, I can report we are seeing an increase in the use of engineered timber in NZ. In Christchurch, we have the groundbreaking project of Bealy Avenue Backpackers by RM Designs. In Dunedin, the Otago Polytech student residence designed and built following sustainability policies set by the institution itself and the Arvida Retirement Village which was built following Living Building Challenge design principles. Social Housing providers in NZ are also investing more in this material.
As time goes on, it will be exciting to see more clients, project managers, architects, engineers and those involved in the early stages of builds, especially those involved in social housing construction, start with the question “how do we make best use of engineered timber for this project” rather than the alternative, “why should we not use it.