A sustainable alternative

Researchers from Bath University are looking into the properties of local timber to assess its suitability as a sustainable building material.


Researchers from Bath University’s BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials are looking into the properties of local timber to assess its suitability as a sustainable building material.


South West woodland contains substantial amounts of Larch, Douglas Fir, Spruce and Western Red Cedar. The researchers will be analysing the structure of the wood by measuring its strength, density and microstructure to determine the extent to which it can be used for structural timber for floor joists, beams and columns.


They will also assess possible future use in composites such as glue-laminated timber or Glulam, which is made using strips of timber bonded in layers to make beams and columns.


The quality of structural timber depends on the species of the trees, the local growing conditions and on how well forests are managed. Prof Richard Harris at Bath University and Prof Nigel Curry of the University of the West of England (UWE) plan to draw together these data on forests across the south west into a database that can be used to predict the quality of the wood for structural use.


Harris, of the University’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering is leading the project. He said: ‘Around 12 per cent of the south west region is wooded and this project will identify how the properties of the wood relate to how and where it is grown, taking into account local growing conditions like altitude and distance from the sea.’


Timber can be used in the place of steel for beams and columns – it is lightweight and more attractive. With the price of steel increasing, timber is an appealing sustainable alternative.


Curry, director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute, added: ‘As well as allowing us to gain a fuller understanding of the potential of local timber in sustainable construction, we will be able to place a clearer value on timber production as an economic land use.’


The three-year project is being funded by Great Western Research, a research funding initiative set up by the South West Regional Development Agency to promote collaborations between research groups and businesses in the region.