Assured solutions in a crisis

Andrew Carpenter of the Structural Timber Association says that the timber solutions already exist for building the energy-efficient low-carbon dwellings the Government is calling for to address the housing crisis, now underpinned by robust assurances

Offsite construction presents many new opportunities for an industry looking to improve productivity, reduce waste and deliver better quality buildings at a fast rate. Offsite technology is hailed as the solution to resolving some of the most challenging problems facing the construction industry today, most notably the shortfall in housing supply and the skills shortage. The Government, industry funders, insurers and stakeholders together with contractors, housebuilders and clients, recognise the role timber technology must play in this vital area. And, despite the Government’s initial attempts to constrain the low carbon agenda through the closing of the Zero Carbon Hub and scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes, it is growing in prominence, thanks to customers. Environmentally conscious clients are demanding sustainable building materials be used wherever and whenever possible, and this of course favours timber. The Government’s recent change of heart was probably best realised in their Future Homes Standard.

As part of his Clean Growth strategy, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans in the Spring Statement to develop energy efficient, low-carbon homes with the introduction of the Future Homes Standard. This will require new residential builds to be future-proofed with low-carbon heating and energy efficiency to make homes better for the environment. Our response to this strategy is unequivocal – we welcome the introduction of the Future Homes Standard, but we have to ask, why wait until 2025 and miss the opportunity to take these important steps now? Fortunately, we do not have to invent the solutions to develop energy efficient, low-carbon homes. We just need to make better use of what is already available. Structural timber technology is seriously reducing carbon emissions across our housing infrastructure, and reducing energy bills for homeowners and tenants. Against this backdrop, the structural timber sector is witnessing unprecedented demand for technically advanced offsite manufactured solutions. It is therefore crucially important to ensure that quality and safety standards, underpinned by robust procedures, are at the top of the agenda of those operating in the sector.

A responsible approach

However, with opportunity comes responsibility, and this has never been better communicated than as outlined in the Hackitt Review. Dame Judith castigated the UK construction industry for its ‘lowest cost’ culture and insisted we need to be more collaborative and better integrated using digitalisation to be able to manage our assets. She insisted we place far more emphasis on quality. I am proud to say that this quality journey is something the STA has been on for many years. Back in 2016 we developed a Membership and Quality Standards Scheme – STA Assure was launched early the next year and the initial accreditation was based on an online self-assessment declaration process. To add further standing and credibility to this initiative, at the beginning of 2018, STA Assure became a mandatory independently audited scheme. Its purpose is to inspire confidence in our industry and means that our customers can rely upon members to do the job properly. It has been particularly rewarding to receive widespread stakeholder endorsement from all the major warranty providers including NHBC, LABC Warranty, Premier Guarantee, Protek Warranty, Build-Zone Warranty, Self-Build Zone Warranty and ABC+ Warranty. The STA Assure programme does not just cover the factory operations, but also extends to how structures are installed. This year saw manufacturing members make a firm commitment to using only accredited erectors that have completed the Timber Frame Competency Award Scheme.

The assessment also includes a bespoke Offsite Award winning Site Safe audit – validating CDM compliance and Health & Safety Executive requirements for the protection and registration of timber structures during construction. This audit ensures that design and production processes and quality controls are in line with the customer’s expectations for consistent, high levels of quality with continuous improvement at the heart of the manufacturer’s culture. Carried out by skilled assessors, the audit process is designed to be in-depth, supportive and informative. Not only does the independent audit validate the design, manufacturing and product realisation processes which offers reassurances to customers, it is particularly beneficial to promote areas of excellence and set standards for best practise principles. STA Assure creates a clear distinction in the expected performance levels of member and non-members within the structural timber arena. By providing transparency, credibility and accountability, the STA safeguards the interests of end users, enabling them to partner with reputable member companies that will harness the multitude of inherent benefits that structural timber offers.

Andrew Carpenter is chief executive at the Structural Timber Association