Following industry research that identified the difficulties of insuring timber buildings, ASBP is launching the Mass Timber Insurance Playbook – a practical resource to help overcome the challenges preventing wider adoption of mass timber

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The political climate has shifted dramatically in recent years with the UK now committed to net zero emissions by 2050. 

To get there, the industry will need to dramatically reduce the amount of embodied carbon emitted during the construction of new buildings – and mass timber is recognised as having an important role to play.

However, as the sector transitions towards greater use of bio-based materials, it is having to face a number of challenges.

The Grenfell tragedy in 2017 highlighted the consequences of neglecting building safety and given the scale of fatality witnessed, the onus is well and truly on the timber industry, the wider construction industry and the Government to demonstrate that this group of combustible products are safe to use.

The mantra should be simple; test. But whilst research is underway, test evidence often remains out of the public domain, having been produced on a project-by-project basis for a client. This piecemeal approach will not overcome systemic barriers and industry-wide collaboration should be a priority to unlock mass timber.

The mantra should be simple; test.

According to research by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP), the three primary obstacles preventing the wider use of mass timber across the industry include: 

  • Difficulties obtaining affordable construction and property insurance for mass timber buildings
  • A prohibitive regulatory environment precluding the use of combustible materials in certain building types
  • Uncertainty around the fire performance of mass timber causing doubt amongst industry stakeholders

Costs of insurance for a completed building using mass timber for its primary structure have been reported to be up to 800% higher than conventional construction methods. In some cases, insurers have opted to refuse cover.

Efforts to decarbonise the construction sector in the UK with natural materials, such as mass timber, are being stifled by an inability to overcome the difficulties of demonstrating fire safety and gaining insurance. 

The insurance sector has shared its concerns. The RISCAuthority published a white paper on mass timber in February 2022 and engagement with the insurance sector towards a common approach to risk mitigation in mass timber buildings has begun.

MTIP figure 2

In response to these concerns, ASBP has created the Mass Timber Insurance Playbook (MTIP).

Designed to provide background and context to the insurance market, the MTIP offers guidance for developers, investors and designers on how to secure an equitable insurance policy for both the construction and operation of mass timber buildings.

The MTIP highlights what is relevant for underwriters – those who decide how much of a risk you are – as well as the responsibility of all contracting parties towards identifying and mitigating risk when undertaking a project.

The Playbook encourages early and ongoing dialogue between the client, designer and insurer and hopes to support the increased use of mass timber in construction and the embodied carbon reduction it enables.

The Playbook has been road tested at a number of stakeholder workshops earlier this year and after obtaining industry endorsement, will launch on 4 May 2023.