What’s the Difference Between Homegrown and Imported Timber?
In the world of construction and DIY projects, timber is one of the most popular mainstream building products - and for good reason. It’s not only one of the most sustainable materials available for construction and renovation, it’s also extremely reliable, often forming a key part in a wide variety of building projects.
When it comes to timber, like any naturally sourced building material, where it comes from can determine its properties, which can affect where and how it’s used in building and construction. And when it comes to choosing timber, the big question is whether to go with homegrown or imported.
Is there a difference between homegrown timber and imported timber? And if so, what kind of impact could it have on your building? Below we explain how it differs from each other and why it’s important in timber construction projects.
Homegrown vs Imported Timber Explained
Homegrown timber is timber that is grown and sourced right here in the UK; mostly in the North of England, Southern Scotland, Western England, and Wales. Although the timber supply chain is a key part of the manufacturing and construction industries in the UK, less than 10% of the timber used in Britain is homegrown.
Alternately, imported timber is wood that is brought into the UK from other countries. While imports come from a variety of sources, the largest source of UK imports comes from Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, and countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. This is because growing conditions are favourable in these regions, allowing them to grow high quality timber that’s perfect for construction. Imported timber accounts for the largest proportion of timber used in the construction industry in the UK.
Key Things to Consider When Choosing Homegrown or Imported Timber
Strength and quality of the Timber
When looking for quality timber, one of the most important things to look for is strength. Timber doesn’t get its reputation for nothing; it’s one of the most enduring and reliable materials on the market. But is there a strength difference between homegrown and imported varieties?
First it’s important to understand how timber is classified in terms of strength and quality. The UK still uses European Standards, a system through which suppliers identify and categories the timber quality. While there are a variety of codes assigned (C16, C24, D24 and D30) the most common (and most relevant to homegrown/imported timber) are C16 and C24.
C16 timber is the most commonly used form of timber in the UK and is the perfect choice for interior projects like walls, floor and roof joists. C24, is considered a higher quality timber on both a structural and aesthetic level, and is often used in grand interior designs or for heavy duty exterior projects.
Realistically, homegrown and imported timber are both regularly graded at C16 strength grade. However, because of its slower rate of growth, imported timber can achieve the higher C24 grade. In contrast, the faster growing conditions here in the UK mean that homegrown timber is less likely to make the C24 grade compared to its imported counterparts. .
However, this does mean that there could be a difference in two key areas: availability and price.
The Availability of Timber
Whether you're an experienced builder or a first time do-it-yourselfer, one of the most important things to consider for any project is if you’re able to secure the quality and quantity of materials you need to get the job done.
As we’ve previously covered, homegrown and imported timber tend to grow at different rates, and also achieve different standards. While both types can readily achieve the C16 grade, the UK can’t achieve the same rate that its imported counterparts can. As a result, while homegrown C16 timber can be found closer to home, it also means that C24 may be harder to source.
It’s not just down to environmental differences, but coverage too. According to a recent study published by the UK Government, the UK has substantially less woodland than many EU countries with just 11.7% compared to the EU’s 37%. Additionally, a recent study has shown that more trees are grown than harvested across the EU. A slower growing rate in the UK makes it harder for suppliers to achieve the same rate of production, which impacts overall availability. As a result, over 90% of timber used in the UK construction industry is imported.
It’s important to point out that homegrown and imported timber are readily available. The key takeaway here is that if timber is a key part of your project, it never hurts to plan ahead to make sure you get the type, quality, and quantity that you need.
The Cost of Homegrown Timber vs Prices of Imported Timber
Cost is an important factor in building and construction projects, particularly when it comes to sourcing and securing building materials. In most cases it's not just about getting the right materials, but getting them at the right price.
When it comes to homegrown and imported materials, there are slight but important differences to consider to see how it will impact your cost.
Homegrown timber can be found closer to home, so you won’t have to pay out for shipping costs which are associated with imported goods. Additionally, any issues that you might have with delivery such as delays or quality issues can be dealt with pretty easily. On the other hand, and as a result, imported timber tends to be slightly more expensive, with import costs combined in the overall price. Keep in mind that with imported timber accounting for the majority of the UK supply, any delivery issues should be resolved just as quickly as with homegrown options.
Whatever option you choose, in most cases additional costs can be negibile. As with all building materials, price can often be determined by a wide variety of factors, so it's often best to shop around to find the best deal for the project you're working on.
Although the UK has now left the EU, it remains to be seen what kind of impact the move will have on the timber industry. What has had an impact is the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. With people spending time at home, timber prices have soared which has caused a surge in demand.
In short, when it comes to cost, there’s no definitive difference based on quality; it’s more about availability. So when you're searching around, consider looking at both homegrown and imported to make sure you get the right material for the right price.
Has the Timber been Treated?
Treated timber refers to timber that has been treated (also known as tanalising) with preservatives on a cellular level. The process occurs through the use of hydraulic pressure, and is also commonly referred to as ‘pressure treatment’ by suppliers. It’s often used for tasks where the wood is likely to come into contact with the elements or potential moisture.
This is another option that will often come up when choosing timber is whether to go for treated or untreated materials. Remember that as a comparison - untreated timber is exactly as it sounds; it’s timber that hasn’t been treated or chemically altered.
In terms of treated wood, treatments are consistent between the homegrown and imported timbers. When it comes down to it, treated or untreated timber isn’t affected by its source. So the question isn’t about homegrown or imported, but more about treated and untreated.
So, Should I Choose Homegrown or Imported Timber?
The big takeaway is that the needs of your project should always come first, and should always be the key deciding factor when it comes to choosing materials. Ultimately, whether it's homegrown or imported, your choice of wood should be more about what your timber needs to do, rather than where it's from.
When it comes to choosing timber for your project, there are no major differences that will impact your business or project in the grand scheme of things, but there are a few subtle differences that could impact your project or costs.
So if you’re converting your loft or putting down some new decking remember: choosing the right wood, treated or untreated, thicker or softer, can make all the difference.
Know what kind of timber you need, or want to look for more options? Why not head over to our web page and browse the full range of timber options using our easy-to-navigate menu options https://www.build4less.co.uk/Timber/