Timber frame’s market share has more than doubled since 1999 and in 1996 accounted for 20.5% of all new housing in the UK.

Against overall growth of about 3.5% in all housing starts last year, timber frame is estimated to have increased by 7.5% – three times faster than masonry which is estimated to have grown by just 2.4%.

Interim figures from the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) show that more than 51,700 timber frame housing and commercial units were built in 2006, realising a growth of 8.1% on 2005. The value of the timber frame industry is also expected to have grown by 11% in 2006, rising to £542m.

The UKTFA expects timber frame housing to expand at about twice the rate of the average for the market, leading to annual increases in market share to 2009.

Social housing

The highest growth will be in the social housing sector where timber frame is still expected to continue to outperform all other methods of construction, but the recent surge in interest from private housebuilders in low risk, cost-effective ways of building low and zero carbon homes is also likely to enhance the timber frame industry’s prospects in coming years.

The boom in timber frame manufacturing is being embraced by several UKTFA members.

Geoff Arnold, managing director of Pinewood Structures Ltd, said the company is “extremely bullish” about the future of timber frame. “With the government pressure on housebuilders to deliver more sustainable and energy efficient homes, I am absolutely convinced that timber frame construction in its many forms will be the build technology of choice in the very near future,” he said. “I can see the day when 80% of all new homes are built in timber frame.”

Although in the short term there are macro economic uncertainties due to the recent interest rate rises and industry consolidation, Mr Arnold does not expect these to impact greatly on housebuilding trends in the medium to long term. “Despite this uncertainty, timber frame market share will continue to increase. With it the industry revenues will also rise, albeit at slower rates,” he said.

Increase in enquiries

Compared with the previous year, Stewart Milne Timber Systems has seen a real increase in enquiries from housebuilders in the past 12 months. “We’re putting out four times as many quotes as we did last year,” said managing director Stewart Dalgarno. “The job we now have is in converting these to orders by demonstrating the benefits timber frame can offer.”

Andrew Acford, sales director at Prestoplan Ltd, believes that timber frame will become “the way to build for the future”.

“New legislation and Building Regulations which have imposed strict rules on the environmental impact of the construction industry will further increase the demand for sustainable timber frames,” he said.

Jason Pritchard, sales director at Kingspan Offsite, identifies a steady increase in opportunities across public and private housing sectors with buyers and buying groups becoming more sophisticated in how they approach the industry.

“The introduction of the government’s carbon-saving policy, including the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), Energy Performance Certificates and recent updated planning policy guidance, means that successful companies will need to become equally sophisticated in offering substantial guidance and added value,” he said.

While some overcapacity remains in the industry, holding selling prices low in some cases, there has been significant additional activity in budget hotels, nursing homes and education, thanks to programmes like Building Schools for the Future and Start Right.

“The outlook remains very bright as demand for increased housing numbers and building performance continues to drive us forward,” said Mr Pritchard.

Medium rise

Joe Martoccia, sales and marketing director at Potton Ltd, said a real success story in recent times has been the industry’s penetration of the medium rise (three to six storey) segment of the market, in both the affordable homes and private sector new homes markets.

“This has really powered the growth of timber frame, helping us capture more market share,” he said.

Looking ahead, he said, the Carbon Challenge and the new CSH provide a further platform for growth.

“However, the industry must be aware and alive to this opportunity,” said Mr Martoccia. “Achieving the highest level of the CSH (levels 6) will be the big industry challenge, but this cannot be achieved by timber frame alone. Timber frame will be at the core, but will be a component in combination with other technologies.

“The future will be about providing holistic construction solutions – a fundamental change in the way our industry works.”

Alan Ritchie, sales and marketing director at Wolf Systems, said the timber frame and timber engineering industry as a whole meet all current and pending legislation on air tightness, sound, and structure. “Competitors of timber must be very concerned, having already lost vast swathes of business to a better product,” he said.

New systems

New systems such as Super E and SIPs would make the technical gap even greater. Technical advances and willingness to take on new products had taken timber frame manufacturers into a higher league, said Mr Ritchie.

Frame UK focuses on partnering with key housing groups in the social housing sector and head of business development Richard Chapman said the reduction in prelims and speed of build meant that overall costs for timber frame were very competitive. “Our clients are concerned about the fact that there are fewer skilled tradesmen on site, the uncertainty of the weather and raw material wastage within the masonry construction sector,” he said.

“We have taken many of these processes into dry, factory-controlled conditions. Our closed panel system now accounts for 70% of our production as clients see the benefits of increased tolerances and virtual elimination of on-site wastage.”