Timber Frame Homes

Ireland’s 10% concrete block levy could lead to more timber-framed homes being built

Just build more timber-framed houses

Green Party leader and Environment Minister Ryan’s response to gathering controversy over the proposal to put a levy on blocks

ENVIRONMENT Minister Eamon Ryan has suggested the new 10% concrete block levy could lead to more timber-framed homes being built.

The Government has rejected calls to roll back on the levy since it was announced on Budget day, saying it is necessary to help pay to repair all the homes affected by mica and pyrite.

The levy is to come into force in April and is expected to raise €80million a year.

Mr Ryan said yesterday that he hopes this measure could result in a better controlled and regulated industry.

When asked if this would mean fewer blocks being used in construction, Mr Ryan said: ‘Much more timber-framing, exactly, that’s where we do need to go. We have the raw material here, we have a potential industry developing in it. We can’t just keep going business as usual in that industry. It does have to change.’

Justice Minister Helen McEntee defended the concrete levy yesterday, saying it is ‘only right that the construction sector plays a role and has a part in contributing financially towards the remediation of people’s homes.

‘They are quicker to erect and build’

She added: ‘We already do have timber-framed homes in this country and I suppose that’s an option that people can look at or take but perhaps not one that might become mainstream.’

However, moving from concrete homes to timber-framed homes may not be cost-effective.

Conor O’Connell, director of housing with the Construction Industry Federation, said ‘It is much the same but it is really hard to compare and generalise because you’ve got different house types, different sizes. It is variable.

Advantages for builders

‘Some of the advantages of timber houses is that generally speaking, they are quicker to erect and complete. A lot of builders would find them more efficient than brick or block.’

He said it would be safe to assume that many builders of scale would prefer to use timber while smaller-scale projects might favor brick and block.

Environmental benefits

Joseph Little of the School of Architecture at Technological University Dublin said while timber homes may not be a whole lot cheaper, they are certainly more environmentally friendly. He said a cubic meter of timber absorbs one tonne of CO2 during its growth as a tree, which is then locked in.

Mr Little added: ‘If that can be locked into a high-quality timber product, then you are preserving that locked-in carbon for much longer.’ He said while a lot of energy goes into turning a tree into timber, overall it has still absorbed more carbon than that process will emit.

Mr Little added: ‘If you compare that to a concrete building, there are large amounts of emissions extracted from the ground which can cause problems with water run-off and pollutants. We’re using vast amounts of energy to create cement.

Energy Efficient

‘For every second, for every degree of temperature difference [between inside and outside], the softwood timber is four times more energy efficient.

‘The block and brick bits provide no value whatsoever thermally. If there is an air cavity that has some weak thermal value, the insulation is what you are relying on almost entirely.’

He added that using timber for homes has been a long tradition in countries with harsher weather than Ireland such as Norway, Austria and Switzerland.

Irish Green Building Council chief Pat Berry said: ‘The timber has to come from a sustainable source. It has to be sustainably grown.’

The cost-effectiveness of building with a Timber Frame rather than a block is in the long grass. There may be no cost difference in the build but there are long-term benefits, lower living costs, better heat and sound insulation, and less heat loss, and building with Timber Frame means energy bills will be lower. Its natural ability to do this from a sustainable source protects home owners from raising energy costs and the environment.