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Success Story -Ty Unnos - Sprucing up sustainable buildings

Coed Cymru, the Welsh woodland management charity, has given a modern twist to the Welsh folk tradition of erecting a house on vacant land overnight and claiming it as a home. 
With funding from the Technology Strategy Board it led the Ty Unnos ("house in one night") project to develop a radical new method of using locally sourced Sitka spruce timber to manufacture building components. These can be used to construct affordable, highly energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.

The system enables quick construction as well. "Using our methodology and system, our commercial partners can provide a watertight shell almost as soon as the components arrive on site," said David Jenkins, director of Coed Cymru.

Growing your own home 

Part of Coed Cymru's brief is research and development into uses for locally grown timber. 
Sitka spruce grows quickly in Wales, there's lots of it, and it could offer a local, cheaper alternative to imported timber. But the downside of quick growth is that it's unstable, frequently flawed and difficult to dry; making it unsuitable for use in high-performance buildings.
"We were challenged by Welsh government agencies to find a way to use locally grown Sitka spruce in house building. We had to take a radically different approach to find a way to stabilise the material and turn it from an unpredictable into a predictable component," David explained.
Coed Cymru created and led a project group including the Welsh School of Architecture Cardiff,Blaenau Gwent Borough Council, housing association Gwrp Gwalia, commercial timber packaging manufacturers Pontrilas Group, and designers of high-quality wooden furniture and flooringKenton Jones
Together, they entered a Technology Strategy Board ‘Components and materials for low impact buildings' competition in 2008. It was designed to stimulate the development of new materials to help meet targets for zero carbon and low water usage in new buildings. 
The group, also called Ty Unnos, was awarded over £205k in funding, and in January 2009 began a two-year collaborative research and development project to develop sustainable housing from Sitka spruce - the SHss House. 

Thinking outside the box

The group came up with a system that uses standard sections of home-grown Sitka spruce timber in two simply assembled engineered timber components: a hollow box section beam and a small section ladder beam. 
It was a joint effort. "When we're stuck for ideas we sit around a big teapot. This idea emerged from a brainstorming session when we sat the best people we could think of round a table," said David.
The teapot did its job. "We delivered everything asked of us and more. We said we'd deliver one building by the end of the two-year project; we delivered three or four," he added.
The engineered components form an innovative whole building construction system when combined with frame connectors and infill panels.
"We can assemble components quickly on site, or in a factory setting to construct a building that can be delivered complete with fitted carpets and pictures on the wall," said David. 


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