It’s taken me a while to get round to writing this up but here goes.
In July I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Scotframe, a timber frame company with a factory in Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow. It’s the first time that Matt has used a timber kit approach with the houses that he has designed and was keen to see the processes and the factory in action so I tagged along and, since it was school holidays, so did the kids. It was a hot and sunny day – one of the best of the summer thus far, and they moaned and groaned bitterly at the prospect of a morning sitting still and behaving on an industrial estate in one of central Scotland’s less picturesque spots.
We met Ray Waite, the business development manager and sat in a small and airless office meeting room. We talked through the basics of the process: a frame made from timber, with foam insulation between, refective membranes on each side and covered by chipboard. The panels are made in Cumbernauld but the insulation injection machine is in Aberdeen and so panels are transported there for finishing. You can choose the thickness of the walls, depending on the insultation you want in the house. I think we are having the most well-insulated version.
I have to admit to being somewhat bewitched by our host’s hair – a classic 80s do, with ample flicked fringe and luxurient demi-mullet. Something that the Hoff would have been proud of in his knightrider glory days and something that you just don’t see enough of. However, I am sure you will be glad to know that I didn’t let this distract me from collecting useful information for this blog.
We were all dying to see the factory though, and it was here that Ray really came into his own. It was obvious that he was happiest on the shop floor and he showed his real enthusiasm for his product – I’m not a great fan of professional salesmen but you can tell a guy who loves his precision nailing device (I think the impressively complicated machines actually do a lot more than nailing by the way).
Once our house is manufactured in the factory – windows and doors mounted in frames, panels packed up and labelled with the postcode, incredibly it will take only 4 days to build it to wind and water tight. Yes, you heard correctly. Four Days.
Once the kit is built, the slates and external cladding for the walls would need to go on but we would, essentially, have what would be recognisably a house. This is a dramatically shorter amount of time on site than conventional forms of building and far more controllable. It needs only a small weather window and, from there, the work can largely be protected from inclement weather. The system seems perfectly adapted for building in the notoriously unpredictable West coast of Scotland climate.
Given all of these advantages I wonder why Matt hadn’t specified this method of construction in previous houses. (that’s me sold on it)
The other query is whether this is going to give us the ‘Eco-house’ we so desire (see previous blog). It may be mainly timber but the insulation is made of evil petrochemicals.
I suppose this is a good point to remind us that we went to this system due to the costs of the extra-ecological-all-natural construction method Matt originally specified. This system looked to get us the best insulation and air-tightness for the cost.
The Scotframe panels can apparently achieve very good airtight ness as they fit together like a giant 3D jigsaw, with a female end (chipboard overhanging the wood frame) into which the male part – rounded ends of the wood frame fits. The membranes overlap and ensure a really airtight fit (figures were quoted but I was too busy keeping the kids quiet, or observing the mullet, to write them down – apologies). They use Scandinavian timber for the structural elements: slower growing and with a tighter grain, they give better strength than Scottish wood apparently. But they do use Scottish timber where they can, in the fibreboard/chipboard stuff.
The process they use has an impressive lack of waste. It will take a couple of weeks to program the designs for the house at Cuil Bay into their computers which then calculate how the machines need to cut the timber and assemble the panels most efficiently. This leaves about 3% waste – very impressive when compared against the 40-50% waste that there would be in a timber frame house being constructed on site.
The process all looks extremely efficient. Which is very comforting as it means that, presumably once we are past this current slow moving bit and we have made all the decisions and got all the permissions, the house will magically appear on the site. I can’t wait.