From durability comes sustainability

The use of timber creates strong and polarised opinions, even between advocates of sustainability. On the one hand, forest clearance creates numerous environmental problems, including the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. On the other hand timber can be managed as a truly renewable resource that, when harvested sustainably and turned into durable products, contributes to carbon being removed from the atmosphere.

This latter consideration wasn’t the primary motivation behind the establishment of Timber Frames of Australia. But with a cubic metre of wood storing around 250 kg of pure carbon (equivalent to nearly a tonne of carbon dioxide) there is a clear benefit to be gained by using timber to create buildings that last.

A passion for an ancient craft

Englishman Peter Harwood became fascinated by the historic timber framed buildings he encountered during his work as a surveyor in the UK. The framing method relies on carefully constructed joints pinned with wooden pegs – no nails, screws or glue required. The resulting structures have stood for centuries and were the inspiration for Peter and his Swiss-born wife Isabelle to build their own timber framed home near Adelaide. From this Timber Frames of Australia was born.

“The business really grew out of a passion for the craft and for timber as a material,” says Isabelle. “That’s what motivated us at the start, and it also motivates our employees.”

Sustainable methods and materials

If not the primary driver of the business, sustainability is an integral part of it. “Both our choice of timbers and the methods we employ are sustainable,” says Isabelle. “Our frames are built to last for generations without renovation, rather than for just a few years.”

Some of the timber used is recycled or comes from fallen windbreaks. The remainder comes from trees selectively harvested from sustainably managed forests.

To complement the choice of sustainable timbers, Timber Frames of Australia is installing a 20 kW solar power system – large enough to power the workshop. All waste is recycled and the workshop’s water requirements are met by harvested rainwater.

Changing attitudes

With its history of building in stone, the broader Adelaide market was a bit skeptical about timber framing. Fortunately there were enough buyers with an affinity for timber to get the ball rolling, and now timber frames are seen as much more mainstream. Isabelle credits a TV show for helping with this. “With Grand Designs being shown around the country a lot more people can see that this building method is widely used overseas. As a result, acceptance and appreciation of our frames has grown enormously.”

Headed for growth

With a team of seven, Peter and Isabelle are looking to expand. Demand for quality craftsmanship and recognition of the benefits of timber frames sees a strong stream of enquiries coming in from around Australia. Isabelle now believes that they could have commenced their interstate marketing activities a couple of years earlier than they did. Current plans are to add another team of four framers within the next two years.

As far as technological advancements are concerned, Peter and Isabelle give the distinct impression they have little role to play in the development of the business. The technology was all sorted out centuries ago. All it takes is the preservation of old knowledge plus the use of sustainable materials to provide a sustainable future for this particular business.

All images supplied by Timber Frames of Australia

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