In contrast to traditional masonry construction, timber house construction is light in weight which allows the building envelope to heat up very quickly. In a house, where heating is intermittent, this fast response can result in increased comfort and energy saving.
Carbon Neutral Timber
Timber is a natural material and requires minimal energy to process it into construction materials. During its growth, timber absorbs carbon dioxide and stores the carbon in its cellular fibres. When it is burnt, or rots away, the wood releases a quantity of carbon equal to the carbon it has already absorbed through its lifetime, thus making it carbon neutral.
Prefabricated Timber Panels
Prefabricated timber houses are manufactured as panels under factory conditions then transported to the site where the building is assembled. The panels are constructed with timber studding and composite wood board materials, known as sheathing, which are nailed onto the exterior of the timber frame to form the rigid panel.
As well as its low thermal capacity, timber frame construction has several other advantages over masonry cavity walls. Because the insulation is incorporated within the thickness of the frame, a greater thickness of insulation can be provided. An external wall cavity is not necessary in timber framed house construction, as long as an appropriate vapour control layer is incorporated on the warm side (in winter) of the insulation.
Timber framed house construction can achieve U-values significantly better than the minimums required by current building standards. A typical timber studding wall consists of a waterproof breather membrane, sheathing board, structural timber framing, vapour barrier and inner lining of plasterboard. Insulation is fitted between the uprights of the timber frame, usually filling the full thickness of the external wall. Where higher than normal standards of insulation are required, a thicker external wall can be constructed.
External Wall Cladding
External walls can be faced with load bearing brickwork or cement rendered blockwork to give the appearance of conventional houses. A number of lightweight cladding materials are also available including: tiling, slating, timber boarding, cedar shingles, cement render on lathing, as well as proprietary rainscreen cladding solutions.
Speed of Construction
Timber buildings can be constructed much more rapidly than masonry cavity wall construction, as the timbers are cut under quality controlled factory conditions. The absence of wet trades internally results in reduced drying out time. Shorter time on site means a shorter total build programme.
Airtight Houses and Insulation
The control of air infiltration is an essential factor in prefabricated houses, as this improves the thermal performance and lowers running costs. If the retained heat is lost through unwanted air leakage then there will be no benefit from high levels of insulation. Air tightness can be controlled by tightly fitting structural panels with overlapped plasterboard linings, as well as by the vapour barrier that is located behind the wall panels.
Timber Houses and Building Regulations
UK building regulations require external walls to have high thermal performance levels through high levels of insulation and air tightness. Durability of the insulated timber frame is an essential requirement, as walls need to provide support for the cladding materials. External walls are required to have appropriate fire resistance and resistance to the spread of flame.
Warranties and Guarantees
Housing warranty and guarantee authorities may have additional requirements for aspects of the timber construction such as sheathing materials, breather membranes and the preservative treatment of the external wall framing.
Low Embodied Energy
Timber framed building has the lowest embodied energy of any commercially available building material, while delivering up to 33 per cent reduction in energy consumption for large detached houses and up to 20 per cent for apartments.
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