Support for timber or timber-framed houses in South Africa, especially if they are supplied in quickly erected kit form, has come from a source that many might find surprising. Bill Rawson, Chairman of Rawson Properties and of Rawson Developers, which traditionally builds in brick and/or concrete blocks, said this week that the time has come to consider timber alternatives for housing very seriously.
"On his visit to the USA earlier this year, Rawson said that he had found that some 60 percent of all US homes are either timber-framed or are entirely of timber.
"Looking at their construction costs," he said, "it became clear to me that, despite wages being far higher than we in South Africa can afford, the end product was not unrealistically expensive, even by First World standards."
How was this achieved?
Rawson said that the speed of erection had kept wages down.
"As in South Africa," he said, "the labour costs on the homes were about 45 percent of the total. They can be held at this level in the USA because most of these homes were erected and finished in three to four weeks." By comparison, said Rawson, the average South African home probably takes anything from three to four months, if not longer.
The US speeds, said Rawson, could be achieved here in South Africa if the timber home production lines could graduate to handling far larger quantities and training was given to onsite workmen in this specialist field.
"The great advantage of this type of construction," he said, "is that the site teams are working largely with pre-cut, pre-treated components that have only to be slotted or bolted into place. Construction of this type can therefore move very fast indeed."
To date, said Rawson, the banks have shown a marked reluctance to fund this type of home, despite firms like T & B Log Homes showing time-and-again that the thermal qualities of their homes are equal to those of a standard cavity brick wall and that the much-feared fire risk is no worse than in other types of homes. In addition, the maintenance of such homes is, he said, inexpensive and, if regularly carried out, highly effective.
"If the banks can be persuaded to take a new look at timber housing we could see a stablisation in house construction prices which would be to the benefit of the entire sector. My own development company would certainly be interested, in certain precincts, in handling well-designed timber homes."