Say hello to Timber Unlimited!

7th August 2023

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Say hello to Timber Unlimited!


The use of timber to reduce climate-changing emissions from the local construction industry has become easier and more accessible with the recent launch of Timber Unlimited to builders, designers, architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and others involved in the building sector throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Formerly the Timber Design Centre, the new name Timber Unlimited reflects a commitment to being the leader in timber design and innovation and providing information to make it easy to choose and use more timber in construction.

Using funding through the government’s Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation Plan (ITP), Timber Unlimited is a practical initiative offering research, technical expertise, tools, guidance, and information to promote the use of wood in building and infrastructure projects across the nation’s commercial, industrial, multi-story and public sectors. 

Timber Unlimited Director Robert Finch says carbon emissions from the construction sector increased by a staggering 66 per cent in the last decade, with the industry now responsible for between 15 and 20 percent of New Zealand’s total emissions. 

“Using more timber in the design and construction of structures throughout the wider industry will markedly decrease these emissions, through its ability to displace more carbon-intensive materials and store carbon dioxide within the wood itself,” says Finch. 

“A Te Uru Rakau – New Zealand Forestry Service study found that if the industry replaced around half of their current use of steel and concrete with timber, it could reduce our national embodied carbon dioxide emissions by half a billion tonnes each year.”

Finch says Timber Unlimited will also work to dispel many myths about using timber in New Zealand. 

“Mass timber is not as commonplace as it could be in structures due to lack of industry experience with it, misinformation, and preconceptions such as believing it was too expensive, would not stand up to a fire or was not structurally as sound. None of this is true and there are an escalating number of buildings around the world that demonstrate this. 

“Timber is sustainable, easy to use, highly flexible in its uses and compares more than favourably with other building materials in terms of cost and strength, and that’s before the lower carbon footprint of timber is considered.

“Part of creating is to build belief in the possibilities of timber. We have created a programme called Timber Decoded - this will help dispel common myths and preconceptions about timber.” 

Iconic New Zealand Architecture firm Warren and Mahoney are strong wood advocates, using timber extensively in their award-winning buildings. Principal Simon Hardy says the company believes mass timber not only also creates beautiful, cost-effective architecture, it has huge potential for reducing carbon emitted in building construction.

“As designers, and as an industry, we can and must embrace innovation and sustainable practice by building the expertise, technology, and knowledge to drive change. Warren and Mahoney has formed an Advanced Timber Unit to help support the advancement of low carbon mass timber design, as we know the potential is huge.” 

To assure its attraction and accessibility to the industry, Timber Unlimited was developed following careful research and listening to the needs of sector professionals and builders, Finch says.

“This gave us insight and information on how Timber Unlimited can positively influence perceptions about timber and building material choices. Importantly, it highlighted the perceived barriers to using wood, specifically in commercial construction. This information has proven critical for Timber Unlimited to dispel myths and concerns around wood and to increase creativity, confidence and, ultimately, a surge in its use throughout our industry.”

Lisa Oliver, Vice President of the Timber Design Society had the opportunity in March to participate in a study tour to the United States to look at innovation in the construction industry and visit significant mass timber projects. 

“The construction sites we visited were clean and quiet and the finished buildings were really comfortable spaces to be in. Our group couldn’t help but want to reach out and touch timber. As well as creating desirable spaces I believe that when timber is designed well, it can be optimised to achieve low carbon, rapid construction, and cost efficiency.

“There is a bright future for timber in New Zealand. We are already seeing an increase in the interest in timber for the commercial scale buildings we work on, and this will only increase as climate awareness increases and policy such as the MBIE’s Building for Climate Change Initiative ramps up.”

Naylor Love Director Scott Watson says: “Increased use of mass timber in the commercial construction area provides the industry the best opportunity to make a significant impact on lowering carbon. Timber will give you the best bang for your buck and a positive carbon saving, while also creating amazing spaces to work and live.”

PTL Technical Director and NZ Timber Design Society president Daniel Moroder, agrees with the cost, aesthetic, and carbon benefits of timber, adding that timber also creates buildings that are good for the people in them.

He says studies into the phenomenon of ‘biophilia’ (a love of life or living things) show that humans thrive in more natural environments. 

“Being in or around nature makes people feel good. It’s been shown that the use of visible timber in a building promotes a sense of nature, making people feel more well, relaxed, and productive. Wood is, therefore, a fantastic material to use in office blocks, schools and even hospitals,” Moroder says. 

Finch ends by saying: “The Timber Unlimited service will make wood materials more attractive and arm the industry with the capability and knowledge to replace emissions-intensive materials with wood. This would empower the industry to speed up the journey to a lower-emissions future and make a real difference to Aotearoa New Zealand.”