In response to government investigating alternative housing solutions for densely populated informal settlements during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) and the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) have approached government with a proposal that timber be seen as one of the construction materials of choice, and as a longer-term solution that will transcend the current crisis and immediate needs.
One of the many pressures that the pandemic has placed on South Africa is the pressing need to provide alternative housing and infrastructure for people living in informal settlements, where it is feared Covid-19 may spread more quickly.
In addition, there is also a need to shelter people who must remain in isolation or quarantine.
SSA and ITC-SA have offered the South African government their combined resources, skills and expertise as part of their sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the organisations, correctly treated wood is in fact highly durable and performs better than many other materials in the event of fire. Apart from complying with most municipal regulations, it also offers exceptional thermal insulation, is cost-effective and is an environmentally lighter option.
SSA executive director Roy Southey explains that there are several compelling reasons in support of timber housing. “To begin with, South Africa has a ready supply of sustainably grown timber, a product that is not only accessible but is light, easy to transport and lends itself to rapid construction.”
In addition, timber-frame homes can be mass produced in panel form and speedily erected by an existing construction workforce that can be easily upskilled to assemble pre-manufactured, factory-checked units that not only address the current crisis, but provide permanent homes.
ITC-SA executive member and timber-frame builder Werner Slabbert says about 70% of people in the developed world live in timber-frame structures, "yet South Africans have, in many ways, been conditioned to believe that building with brick and mortar is the only way”.
Southey notes that timber is a valuable and long-term sustainable source of material ideally suited for use in high-volume construction projects. “It is also a renewable resource. Only 6% of trees from 1.2-million hectares of sustainably managed plantations are harvested yearly while the planting of saplings outstrips felling by a measure of 2:1.”
Current output of commercially grown pine and eucalyptus timber in South Africa exceeds 2.1-million cubic metres and the sawmilling industry alone employs more than 30 000 people, mainly in rural areas.