Expert Advice
Jeff Harvey

Over the 60 years I have been employed by Bowens, I have seen many ups and downs in the supply of timber products.

I remember a severe credit squeeze in the 1960’s, recessions in the 1980’s and 1990’s where you wondered where your next order would come from and conversely in between the negative periods of strong demand often leading to some products being in short supply causing lengthy delays.

Two years ago, structural pine was in very short supply where we had to ration framing orders to regular customers. However, many timber suppliers were able to fill the void from local suppliers and draw supplies from overseas and the situation returned to normal.

 Since then, we have experienced the Covid pandemic which has caused significant impacts across the world where countries are offering incentives for people to build. The Australian Government is also offering building-based incentives to keep the residential construction industry moving. As a result, housing sign-ups and approvals in Victoria are up a massive 30% compared to the previous year.

Unlike 2 years ago, the overseas supply dried up because other countries were prepared to pay prices, sometimes twice as much as we were prepared to pay. Compounding supply issues such as the recent bush fires decimated some forest coups that were ready for harvesting. Accordingly, it leads me to say, nothing can compare to the supply shortages we are currently experiencing.

“Australian producers and timber merchants are unable to keep up with the demand and are limiting supply to their regular customers based on their previous purchase history.”

Understandably, this has seen many builders resort to alternatives to timber building products, particularly steel framing. However, what concerned many within the timber industry was a comment from an executive in a leading building organisation saying many builders once using steel framing products would keep using it going forward, even when supplies return to normal. We believe is a very short-term solution to a builder’s current needs and ignores the impact on the environment.

All building materials we use have an impact on the environment and as a long-term member of the timber industry, I am particularly proud of the way we protect the environment. As such, it can be argued that responsibly sourced wood in the products we sell are the only renewable building materials available.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an internationally recognised not-for-profit organisation set up to develop standards to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It accredits independent third-party organisations to certify forest managers and commercial consumers of by-products against a set of internationals standards.

Another scheme is the Programme Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) which is an international non-profit, non-government organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management throughout commercial supply chains.

“All the major Australian producers have signed up to one or both of these schemes.”

The wood we use comes from a tree and as we all know a tree grows on solar energy and the elements from above. In the growing process it uses the solar energy of the sun and the natural process of photosynthesis, removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and stores it whilst releasing oxygen for us to breath breathe, I call trees the lungs of the earth.

Complimenting the industry’s environmental efforts, after a tree is harvested, we replant another, and a sustainable cycle continues.  

The wood products we use embodies carbon that remains stored for the life of the product. A typical 200 square metre, single-storey, timber-framed house uses about 12 cubic metres of timber, which is the equivalent to storing almost 3 tonnes of carbon. This calculates to around 7 tonnes of CO2 taken out of the atmosphere – and amazingly Australian softwood plantations would re-grow this average house frame in less than a minute.

Steel framed houses, by comparison, are not carbon storers, instead, they are carbon emitters and the materials used in production can, unlike timber, not be renewed.

For most builders, trying steel framing is a big shift, considering;

  • It’s harder to work with
  • Trades may want a surcharge to handle it
  • It is more reactive to temperature changes

Timber offers;

  • Fast and easy to assemble
  • Properly graded, strong, stable and quiet
  • It’s a great insulator, an important point with proposed government efficiency regulations

Lastly and most importantly, remember the environmental benefits – timber framing really is The Ultimate Renewable.

You, our valued customers have to make a choice, but keep in mind the broader impacts that might have. The current supply shortfalls will soon hopefully be a past memory with the current COVID craziness. But the choice you make on the framing materials for the houses you build, will have a long-term impact on your customers and most importantly, on our environment.   

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