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Environmental impact

Low carbon affordable housing using homegrown Welsh softwood.

Sprucing up sustainable buildings

Ty Unnos 2

The Ty Unnos project saw the University's Welsh School of Architecture, Bangor University and Coed Cymru work in partnership to help produce low carbon, affordable housing using homegrown Welsh softwood, with the aim of offering house builders an alternative to imported timber for sustainable housing.

Funded by the Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission Wales and the Technology Strategy Board, the project's mission was to develop a system of high performance affordable housing based on the properties of Sitka spruce, a home-grown timber.

This spruce grows quickly and is a plenty in Wales, offering 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. The project set to find a way to stabilise the material and turn it into a predictable building component.

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. 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.

David Jenkins, Director, Coed Cymru

Grow your own home

The Ty Unnos group designed a system that uses standard sections of Sitka spruce in two simply assembled engineered timber components: a hollow box section beam and a small section ladder beam. The engineered components form an innovative whole building construction system when combined with frame connectors and infill panels.

Originally devised with sustainable housing in mind, the components performed to a much higher level than anticipated, making it suitable for small commercial buildings and a number of classrooms and industrial buildings have already been built.

The system is also performing above expectations in energy efficiency. To date, the Ty Unnos system has been used for buildings worth £2M, from housing developments in Wales and Scotland to a visitor pavilion at the Smithsonian Festival 2009 in Washington DC.

It's also picked up an impressive array of awards, including the Cardiff University Innovation Award 2009, Chartered Institute of Building's International Design and Architecture Award in 2009, the first winner of the European timber network's Innovawood prize in 2011 and a commendation in the 2013 RIBA President's Awards for Outstanding University-located Research.