Think Wood recently surveyed 500 leading architects, engineers, developers and contractors in the US, in order to gauge their response to emerging trends in the industry. In this article we survey their observations about the top 5 trends and what these might mean for the timber industry in South Africa.
Think Wood’s trend report discusses the significance of the five trends that were selected as being most important for the year ahead. Here are the most important findings.
The top trend identified by industry professionals was the need to bring construction in line with carbon-footprint regulations. The report notes that 77% of respondents consider carbon impact at least some of the time and that it is becoming an increasingly important factor when choosing building materials.
It is estimated that at current rates, “building materials used in new construction in cities across the globe will generate 100 gigatons [100 billion tons] of embodied carbon by 2050”. It is clearly imperative that the industry considers materials and processes that are geared towards reducing negative environmental impact.
The use of engineered timber in the structural system of buildings is one mechanism by which the carbon footprint of the construction industry can be reduced. Engineered timber has a much lower quantity of embodied carbon than the alternatives and it also has excellent thermal properties, which helps to reduce the energy demand of heating or cooling the building.
The Monte French Design Studio is as an example of how timber can be put to work in high-profile projects to reduce carbon. Terra, a 7-storey, 34-unit multifamily project in Boston uses a mass-timber structural system and passive house design to reduce energy costs. Their use of timber is estimated to have offset 327 tons of CO² when compared to conventional steel or concrete alternatives.
South Africa lags behind much of the developed world in its concern for carbon footprint and its implementation of carbon taxes, but it is a growing issue here too. In February 2022, legislation was passed that will see such taxes gradually implemented over the next four years.
The second most important trend identified by the report is affordable housing. Factors such as climate change and housing shortages have driven up demand and cost in markets around the world. One means of addressing ballooning costs has come from innovations in prefabricated construction that have allowed modules to be mass-produced in factories and then assembled on site.
Mithun, based in Seattle, Washington, is a design firm that has had great success with factory-produced wooden modules that can be stacked to heights of up to seven storeys. These two-bedroom, 108m² units can be produced significantly cheaper than those made by traditional means.
Whether such solutions are well-suited to South Africa’s low-cost-housing needs remains to be seen, but it does have the potential to provide another exciting new sector for the local timber industry.
The Think Wood report identifies prefabrication and modular construction as its third most important trend for 2022. Respondents pointed to several benefits of this construction model, including reductions in cost and waste, as well as increases in efficiency and the potential for parts of these kits to be disassembled and reused at the end of their service life.
Mass timber is engineered structural timber made usually by laminating smaller pieces. It is used both as a construction material and a building system. It is growing in importance, both because its carbon-storing advantages make it a good alternative to energy-intensive structural materials, and because the beauty and warmth of exposed timber contributes to occupant well-being.
Mass timber has been used in several high-profile construction projects in the US, including facilities for Google, Microsoft and McDonalds, and a new corporate campus for Walmart, which is one of the largest mass timber projects in the world.
The timber industry in South Africa is opening up to the possibilities that mass timber provides for low-carbon, low cost construction. It will become increasingly viable if plantations can increase local production and preclude the need for mass-timber imports.
The fifth trend is hybrid construction, which refers to the combination of wood with steel, concrete and other materials. The emphasis here is on the development of cutting-edge engineering solutions to structural problems, and again timber is playing an important role.
The role of timber in recent construction trends holds promise for related industries in South Africa, with potential for job creation and innovative new markets. An increase in local timber production offers the potential for significant cost reductions, helping to address the need for low-cost housing. Timber also assists in improving compliance with carbon regulations that are becoming increasingly important to regulators.
Evergreen Holdings manages over 1,500 hectares of timber covering a range of species, primarily eucalyptus, but also pine and hardwood. Our export and brokerage division sources a wide range of South African timber products for clients on four continents. If you are looking for treated timber, construction lumber, pulp, chip or hardwood, get in touch and we’ll help you source high quality product at a competitive price.
Evergreen Forestry is a vertically integrated, sustainably focused forestry company managing seven plantations across the KZN Midlands. Evergreen Forestry grows its own trees for pulp and sawmilling, with an increasing focus on the sawmilling value chain.
Hectares under management
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