The corporate house builder Persimmon plc recently announced huge bonuses for its executives.

While the government’s policy of  “Help To Buy” has undoubtedly helped to create these vulgar bonuses, the construction methods used by Persimmon and other corporate builders have allowed them to capitalise on this windfall.

Persimmon own a company called Space4, a timber framed, off-site prefabrication factory.

This YouTube video shows the construction of a two story Space4 house completed within 4 hours!

Obviously this method of construction saves Persimmon a fortune in labour costs, allowing them to create greater profits.

This method of construction claims to be environmentally friendly and the end product is more energy efficient than a traditional bricks and mortar home.

So what are the downsides to timer frame construction?

Well judging by the customer reviews of Persimmon homes on Trustpilot there would appear to be some serious downsides.

Most of the reviews complain about poor finish quality, structural movement and extremely poor after sales customer service.

In this new brave world of too “big to fail” and  “too big to fight” corporate dominance we have become accustomed to poor quality and poor customer service.

However, I want to explore the hidden problems of buying these type of homes.

I have over a decade of experience building  “wooden kit” houses in Spain. Building regulations in Spain are a lot more relaxed than in the UK. If you buy a piece of land in Spain, normally you can live on it without any planning permission as long as the home you live in is movable. A caravan is an obvious choice, however the extreme heat in Spain does create issues for caravan dwellers. Another alternative is a timber house, this is the choice of many Spaniards and the demand for them kept me very busy indeed.

As a cheap way of putting a roof over your head for 30 to 40 years, I cannot think of a better solution. However these type of houses are not without drawbacks.

Timber is a natural material, it expands and contracts with temperature and humidity variations. This causes cracks in plastered walls and gaps can develop where the structure is jointed. Movement can also snap fixings like screws and nails used to hold the structure together. Timber also warps creating uneven walls and floors. Door frames drop and twist due to the structural movement, meaning doors do not close properly or lock properly. This Video highlights the door problem very well:

This structural movement can also put stress on water pipes, drainage pipes and electrical cables. This can cause flooding or fires.

The timber frame is normally protected by a polyethylene vapour barrier, this can cause moisture generated by the occupants to build up in the home causing mold and damp. As this homeowner discovered.

Timber rot and pests can also be a problem in these homes, especially where the timber frame has been cut or drilled. If rain water gets into the timber frame during construction, this can create serious problems in the future, as the moisture is trapped behind the vapour barrier and cannot escape, creating an ideal breeding ground for things like termites and other undesirable creatures.

Rodents are particularly fond of timber framed houses if they can get in.

Noise is another issue that plagues timber framed homes, stud partition walls if not properly insulated can allow transmission of sound between rooms.

The life span of timber framed homes must also be considered.

Modern mass produced timber frame homes have been built since the 1970’s and the very oldest are still less than 40 years old. The timber frame itself is normally “guaranteed” by the manufacturer for various periods ranging from 10 to 40 years. It is a commonly perceived opinion within the industry that 25 –30 years is a reasonably expected life span for a softwood timber framed building. This is the same period as the average length of the mortgage. No one would buy a leasehold property with 30 years left on the lease!

Extensions or alteration can also prove to be difficult, breaking the vapour barrier or cutting the timber structure can void manufactures guarantees

Insurance should probably be the biggest concern to timber framed home owners. As problems with wet rot and dry rot increase with the age of the home, insurance companies may well start excluding this from future policies. Insurance against fire may also become more expensive or impossible to get, especially in apartment blocks and terraced houses where a fire in your neighbors home can quickly spread to yours, destroying the entire structure.

Concerns have also been raised by The President of the Chief Fire Officers Association John Bonney. After the recent timber frame fire on a building site in Basingstoke there are concerns that firemen are at a greater risk due to the instability of the burning timber structure collapsing around them. He said, “When timber-framed buildings catch fire the actual structure burns. It often leads to total collapse and that puts the safety of our fire-fighters at risk.”

Given that when attending a fire scene, the fire chiefs primary legal duty of care is to his crew, homeowners may well find that their rescue is not a certainty. Still, consolation can be found in the fact that the occupants, may well already be dead from the toxic cyanide gas released from the burning insulation used in many of these timber framed homes.

While timber framed prefabricated homes allow government to meet housing targets and allow corporate builders to make a healthy profit, these homes could well be a ticking time bomb for the rest of society.

The truth about timber framed homes.

Reviews from corporate house builder customers.

This piece was originally published on False Money and was reproduced with permission of the author.

Paul Fear

Paul Fear

Paul Fear has a Higher National Diploma in business systems analysis. He worked as a carpenter for 35 years, of which 10 years were spent in Spain building log homes of both hard & softwood. He was taught carpentry by his father who was taught by the Royal Navy after World War Two.
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One thought on “The corporate timber frame time-bomb

  1. When you can chuck any cut-price dross up and flog it for a small fortune before it’s even finished – or indeed started – where’s your motivation to improve the product?

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