Designing in timber

Timber is the only truly sustainable and renewable construction material. Along with it’s incredible versatility and beauty, these characteristics means wood continues to grow in popularity.


Studies show almost almost one tonne of carbon dioxide is absorbed for every cubic meter of timber used in construction. Timber has the lowest embodied carbon of any construction material.


Architects and specifiers, conscious of the significant impact of construction on global warming, are pledging to use more sustainable timber to help turn the tide on climate change.


This has led to a wave of innovation in the UK, as wood inspires architects and thought leaders to create a built environment more closely aligned with nature, including building tall with timber.


Engineered timber is an example of this innovation, as it is an increasingly popular material, both in the UK, and around the world. These modified timbers are stronger and more durable, expanding the use of wood.


We have collected many examples of innovation from our members, who are the leading providers of sustainable timber in the UK, as well as our partners from across Europe, and internationally, in our TimberWorks Case Studies.


If you wish to learn how to make greater use of sustainable timber, check out our library, including our report on How the timber industries can help solve the housing crisis.

Understanding timber performance

The correct choice of product, good design and the help of technology means that there are wood-based solutions for almost any form of construction. 


To get the best performance from a wood product, it is important to consider the environment the timber will be situated in. This will allow you to select the right timber for the job.


When you know where the timber will be placed, strength and durability, as well as appearance, are critical factors to consider. Each timber product will come with a set of manufacturing parameters determining its suitability for particular end-uses – shown in a CE Mark.


For specifiers it is important to understand the intrinsic relationship between moisture content and the performance of timber, as wood is a naturally hydroscopic material, which means it will gain or lose moisture in sympathy with its surroundings.


This means moisture will have an impact on the durability of any wooden product. While some timber carries natural resistance to water, such as Greenheart used in marine environments, others will require treatment if they are to be directly exposed to the elements.


However you should know durability can be enhanced by treating timber. We recommend using a factory process to ensure sealants are evenly applied across  the whole of the product, giving maximum effect.


Another reason you might treat timber is to enhance it’s fire performance. While thicker bits of timber will have a natural resistance to fire, via charring, your end use might require treatment. Building safe must always be a top priority.

Building with timber

Timber is one of the most versatile and workable materials in the world. You don’t need a concrete mixer, or a smelter. All you need to begin working with timber is basic tools, such as a saw, hammer and nails.


However there is of course a high level of craftsmanship. Carpenters, builders and joiners are highly skilled tradespeople, and through their expertise, they are able to bring the best performance of timber products.


Working with our partners, we have produced guides and online courses to highlight best practice for builders and joiner, or even keen self-builders – please do check these out.


Of course, technology has in many ways changed how we build. The construction industry is increasingly moving towards Modern Methods of Construction, which often include using more timber.


Because of it’s versatility and relative low cost, timber machinery has been a primary target for investment by companies interested in modernising.


Structural timber is an example of an early adopter of offsite construction techniques, where components are made in a factory, and then erected on site in just days. Mass timber is also designed offsite for installation.


Modern methods of construction allow up to 30% quicker build times, and as much of the work is done offsite, there are far fewer interruptions to communities living near the work site, and a 90% reduction in waste.