How we could solve the housing crisis by building with timber we grow ourselves. Timber is a convenient, cost-effective, sustainable, durable and environmentally friendly building material that we can grow easily in Ireland. It’s madness not to make more use of it
Fifteen years ago, I bought a log cabin and had it erected in woodland in Co Leitrim.
I searched long and hard to find a reasonably priced house that was constructed with slow-grown, well-seasoned timber and eventually, through an Irish agent, had one delivered from Eastern Europe.
The firm I bought if from are sadly no longer operating but there are many others, some good, some not so good so it is worth putting in some time in researching what you are buying.
Good-quality log cabins make excellent housing and are a far cheaper option than the traditional concrete structures we are familiar with.
It is a simple process. Pre-fabricated sections arrive on a lorry complete with a team of erectors who slot all the pieces together, a bit like building with Lego.
All I had to do was provide a concrete pad and the standard essentials for any home such as an electric connection, proper sewage facilities and a water supply.
It took the construction team just three days to complete the job.
My original plan was to use the cabin as a holiday home but for various reasons, I never used it other than to enjoy the facilities when working for a day in the woods.
After two years, it seemed a total waste to have something like this lying idle for most of the time, so I got the same firm to take it apart and re-erect it on my farm in Meath, where it now makes an excellent farm office.
Taking it down and re-erecting it took all of four days — amazing when you compare this to the time it takes to build traditional housing.
I mention all of this to demonstrate how convenient and cost-effective timber houses are compared to the tedious task of conventional house construction.
Yet there appears to be a bias against such housing among planners and also a reluctance among our population to build such residences.
I simply can’t understand this. We can literally grow our own homes by using the timber from our woodland and doing so in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
European larch and Western red cedar — to mention just two species — are relatively slow-growing and make perfect construction materials that will happily withstand being exposed to the vagaries of Irish weather.
Other faster-growing species like spruce are better suited for being undercover and used as part of the internal construction.
It is worth noting that my cabin has roof and floor insulation but none in the walls because I was advised, correctly, that it was not necessary. The thickness and density of the timber provides excellent heat retention.
While the timber used in my cabin was from whole logs, laminated timber is finding ever more uses in construction and enables the building of multiple-storey high-rise buildings which are apparently stronger and safer than those that use steel and concrete.
It is obvious which materials are better for reducing carbon and helping to slow global warming.
Timber is an excellent insulator. And the fact that it is something we can grow superbly in Ireland and use over and over again makes it a neglected asset in these times of metals and plastics and concrete.
We need to better appreciate the qualities of our own home-grown sustainable building material.
On the subject of sustainable materials, a few weeks ago my fencing contractor took down some pressure-creosoted post-and-rail fencing and re-erected it on another part of the farm.
He remarked on how little decay had occurred. It was fencing that I had bought 50 years ago!
Other than some decay at the points where the wood was nailed, it was perfectly re-usable and while the creosote was more effective then than now due to the removal of some of the more toxic elements in the mix, it was astonishing that it had stood the test of time through most of my lifetime.
Reduce, re-use and recycle are excellent guidelines for sustainable living. We could easily meet all of our own timber needs without relying on costly imports — planting trees is a no-brainer.
Surely even Minister Hackett would agree with those facts and for once and for all, sort out the backlog of applications to plant more trees.
It is difficult to listen to the news without hearing about the shortage of affordable housing. The solution is simple. Just grow it.
Joe Barry is a farmer and forester on the Kildare-Meath border