“More for Less” Equals Masonry!

Modern Masonry Alliance director Mike Leonard welcomes Government support for energy efficient buildings.

Despite the recent brave words from the beleaguered timber frame industry the beginning of the end may well now be in sight as the Government sets out its plans to deliver “More for Less” and the housing industry returns to putting the customer first and building what the market wants.

New Housing Minster Grant Shapps, has signalled his support for delivering energy efficiency homes and long term sustainability through the fabric of the building rather than using often imported and largely unproven micro renewables.

This is fantastic news for the masonry industry, which provides a vast range of products which are used to construct energy efficient masonry homes that have been proven to last at least 150 years using locally produced and installed materials.

How is it that so much public money has been wasted on importing timber to construct lightweight structures that offer no thermal mass, present a significant fire risk, do little to reduce the transmission of sound and will, in all probability, last a fraction of the life of a masonry home. This is even more surprising given the fact that constructing homes in timber frame is at least 15% more expensive than masonry. We must also consider the cost of lost local jobs and the feelings of the public, reflected in a recent survey, where a staggering 93% of the public stated that they would prefer to live in a brick and block home.

The answer lies in misguided politicians believing that imported timber was somehow carbon free. Through agencies such as English Partnerships they were able to force the Social Housing sector to spend more money than they needed to build less homes per £1m – homes that will not last as long as masonry ones. Their carbon calculation, of course, took no account of the deforestation or the inefficient highly polluting shipping of the timber into the UK from as far away as Canada and Siberia.

According to a study by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management shipping timber from Canada may account for 130 kg of CO2 per tonne of timber! It also assumed that timber locks in carbon, ignoring the end of life impact of timber, where methane, a gas which is 24 times worse to the environment than CO2, is released into the atmosphere.

To their credit the Homes and Community Agency which incorporated the former English Partnerships scrapped these targets when they finally realised that we need to be designing for a warmer climate with summer temperatures in London predicted to reach 40 degrees by 2050. In these circumstances lightweight structures such as timber frame will prove wholly ineffective, needing retro-fitting of air-conditioning to stay habitable in the summer.

Out of adversity we often see common sense prevail. Masonry construction is proven and well liked. We have led the way in demonstrating our ability to deliver high performing airtight homes that can meet all the challenges of the low carbon future cost effectively. Unlike timber frame kit construction, masonry can be easily adapted and extended to meet our changing needs and requirements.

The time for wasting public money is now well and truly over. We have to responsibly source, wherever possible, cost effective local raw materials, produce finished products in local UK factories and secure the employment of our skilled workforce now and in the future. No longer can we sit back and accept poorly thought through government policy that has caused us to squander so much tax payer’s money.

We must also take note of the increasing evidence surrounding the poor performance of timber frame buildings during and post construction when fire occurs. The GLA inquiry into high rise timber structures is set to report in September and only this week we saw yet another major timber frame fire destroy a large block of flats in Glasgow.

True sustainability is about using our own resources to create employment and build better homes and communities that will last many generations. If we are really serious about protecting the future of our planet we have to look at the end to end supply chain and the whole life of the building. Heavyweight masonry construction is the only solution that can truly meet this challenge

About Guest Blogger - Mike Leonard

Mike Leonard, Director of Modern Masonry Alliance, shares his thoughts on what's happening in the construction industry

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