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A cut-away of the ModCell structure, showing the timber frame and packed straw.

Timber shows sustainability street smarts
Published:  20 November, 2009

Timber had a high profile at Interbuild’s ‘sustainbility street’, the section of the show dedicated to  offsite and other modern methods of eco-friendly construction.  In fact it accounted for the structure of most of the cutting edge buildings.

Perhaps the most intriguing was the tubular Pilotis building, devised by architect Robert Gaukroger of Kita Design and developed with timber construction veteratan Gordon Cowley.
The prefabricated 11.5mx4.5m structure is 95% timber, comprising a glulam chassis, CNC-machined softwood frame, plywood shell and English chestnut shingle cladding.  It also sits on Douglas fir stilts and  the access ramp and the apron decking is a wood and recyled plastic composite.
“The first three buildings  have  been installed as classrooms at Elleray Prep School at a total cost of £250,000 to £300,000,” said Mr Gaukroger. “And the concept is also attracting  interest in the holiday cabin and fixed caravan-park sector.”
The concept of the nearby EcoMods modular house was that if you want another bedroom, you just add a pod. “The house at Interbuild is three-beds , costing around of £40,000, but you can easily go to four,” said technical manager Malcolm Ball.
Using OSB-skinned SIPs panels as their core structure, the EcoMod pods have fixtures and appliances ready fitted for delivery to site and can be clad in anything from timber to brick slips.
“And they’re extremely robust,” said Mr Ball. “We trucked them 100 miles to the show with no  distortion.”

ModCell’s modular build system, based on timber and packed straw panels, takes a different construction approach. The wood frame components are pre-cut using CNC equipment, but the panels are then finished locally. “The concept is to set up in, say, a barn close to the site,” said a spokesperson. We call it a flying factory.”
The result, he added,  is a lightweight,  but very strong and extremely insulating build method.  “We can go up to three storeys,” he said. “And the insulation means potentially zero heat requirements, and easily meets PassivHaus standard.”

The dwelle house down the street was virtually 100% wood, and a list of component   suppliers on the exterior cladding read like a who’s who of the timber industry, including included Leaderflush (windows), Richard Mallinson (interior joinery), Arnold Laver (Accoya cladding) and Smartply (OSB for the wall panels). Designed in various   formats ,  from a holiday home to a beach hut and ranging in price from £15,000 to £50,000, dwelle comprises prefabricated components for rapid erection on site.  
“And as well as one-offs, it could also be used in developments and scaled up into a bigger building by joining several units together,” said a dwelle spokesperson.
Another big visitor draw was the “Intelligent Building”  which featured  SupaWall construction  – basically hybrid SIP panels including timber studs as well as rigid PU insulation. Licencees Maple Timber Systems and Scotframe Timber Engineering said the system achieves U-values as low as 0.10w/m2K and that worldwide licensing options are being considered.
Further evidence of the resilience of the UK wood-based building sector in  recession came from machinery producer Homag, which had a stand off ‘Sustainability Street’ . According to project manager John Britton, its  timber frame technology subsidiary Weinmann has continued to enjoy healthy demand.
“UK producers, particularly in Scotland, are  moving increasingly to closed panel  construction methods and they’re investing in the appropriate machinery,” he said. “It’s been a busy few months and we’ve got more projects in the pipeline and had some interesting conversations at the show.”

The all-timber prefabricated Pilotis building.

The dwelle house comes in several sizes and formats.