Overcoming Barriers

THE BARRIERS

A list of potential barriers limiting the uptake of structural timber in the Italian context emerged during the stakeholder workshops organized by the Perception of Timber team. In the first workshop, potential high level barriers were identified. The second workshop was then used to focus on a few specific barriers and consider solutions.

The list of barriers is summarized as follows:

  • lack of technical skills and knowledge;
  • lack of Italian regulations that allow for the use of innovative construction technologies and structural timber;
  • lack of economic return on the investment in the short term;
  • availability of raw materials;
  • high costs of raw materials and products;
  • traceability and reliability of the entire supply chain;
  • lack of confidence in insurance for timber building projects;
  • lack of data sharing between stakeholders;
  • lack of reliable open-access information (current and historical);
  • lack of technical training;
  • lack of dialogue between stakeholders and the Public Administration (PA).

The barriers are grouped into five categories:

  • regulatory/political
  • technical
  • financial
  • social
  • environmental


This section lists questions which have evolved from analysis of each barrier. The section also provides links to external documents where relevant topics have been addressed.

The aim is to allow for a detailed analysis of the available technical documentation and provide potential answers to the questions presented in order to activate “paths of change” in the Italian and European construction sector.

Regulatory/Political

  • Are there any national standards for the use of mass timber in construction?
  • What could the Public Administration do to help uptake mass timber construction systems?
The use of mass timber in construction in Italy is regulated by NTC 2018 (Norme Tecniche per le Costruzioni). Other general indications are provided by CNR DT 206-R1/2018, D. Lgs 42/2004, Regolamento edilizio, etc. In Italy, Assolegno, ConLegno, Lignius, and others are associations that performs an important task of representation within the relevant ministerial offices. This activity is indispensable to ensure the competitiveness of timber construction on the market and guarantee adequate working tools in current legislation and regulations. Alternatives to existing regulations can be tested by managing nationally or European funded research projects (i.e., Horizon, LIFE programme, etc.).
Several initiatives to uptake mass timber construction and sustainable constructions (in general) have been taken at the European level. Below is reported a not complete list of initiatives:

Financial

  • How can the risks of mass timber be mitigated from an insurance perspective?
  • How can the lack of open source testing data for mass timber construction be addressed?

Nowadays, in the Italian context, different certifications applied to mass timber buildings aim to guarantee the constructions' reliability even to credit and financial institutions. In particular, “Certificazione S.A.L.E” (Sistema Affidabilità Legno Edilizia) is a private protocol born from the collaboration between Assolegno and Conlegno. S.A.L.E. protocol aims to identify green building construction companies that comply with current regulations and can guarantee comfortable, durable, and quality constructions (click here).

In the last years, the protocol became the certification required to demand specific financial and insurance products related to mass timber buildings. Below is reported a not completed list of products that are accessible after the presentation of S.A.L.E certification:

  • Mutuo Casaverde, provided by Banca Popolare Etica, mortgage loan of first home;
  • Mutuo Ipotecario, provided by Gruppo Banco BPM, offers the additional possibility of being financed with work progress.

Other institutions that recognize the certification are: Gruppo IntesaSanpaolo, Federazione Marchigiana BCC, UBI Banca, and Unicredit Leasing. Zurich Insurances, AVIVA, and Allianz provide insurance products for mass timber buildings.

Environmental

  • Which methods should be used to measure the environmental impact of timber products? (e.g. GWP, PERT, PERNT)
  • How can the environmental benefits of using timber be measured?

To correctly assess the environmental profile of products (goods and services), the methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), standardized in Europe by EN ISO 14040 and 14044, should be followed. LCA is the leading methodology for environmental metrics, representing a useful tool to evaluate quantitatively, according to a comprehensive and scientifically reliable computational modeling, the eco-profile of buildings and building materials. The LCA method permits the assessment of embodied carbon and other impact categories (i.e., land use, water use, eutrophication, resource use, etc.). Once the evaluation has been conducted, the results to be communicated externally must be critically reviewed according to EN ISO 14044, and the environmental communication must follow the guidelines provided by ISOs 14020 (i.e., EN ISO 14024, EN ISO 14021, EN ISO 14025, EN ISO 14026, or EN ISO 14027). A suite of standards was also implemented to measure the sustainability of constructions in compliance with EN ISO 14040-44. This suite included EN 15804 and EN 15978. EN 15804 is the reference standard for developing Life Cycle Assessment-based studies, reported in Environmental Product Declarations (EPD; EN ISO 14025), advising on the core rules for the product category of construction products. EN 15978 suggests calculation methodologies at the building level. As stated in EN ISO 14044, peer reviewers and a stakeholders Committee should critically review comparisons between products. In addition, it is strictly important to emphasize that a deterministic or “static” analysis should not be consistent for comparative studies. The uncertainties of the outcomes might be too high to meaningfully conclude which alternative is preferred. A stochastic analysis via error propagation is necessary, providing probabilistic and hypothesis test results.

In this context, a review of the existing Energy Certification Certificates for housing units should be proposed to consider the potential benefits of sustainable constructions beyond the operational phase. The new assessment model should not just consider the operational phase in the boundaries and the Primary Energy non-Renewable indicator but extend the analysis to other category impact indicators (i.e., climate change, land use, acidification, eutrophication, etc.) and other life cycle phases (i.e., production stage, construction process stage, and end of life stage, etc.). It will permit the Municipalities to have a holistic view of the building stocks, monitoring and elaborating statistical analysis to implement sustainable policies that do not neglect the embodied carbon in the construction materials. This implementation is partially described by Famiglietti et al. 2022 (click here).

Technical

  • How important is the standardisation of materials and components in the mass timber industry?
  • Is it possible to verify the source and quality of mass timber products?
  • What are the end-of-life scenarios for mass timber products?

In the European market, several attempts have been performed to reconstruct a reliable supply chain of mass timber products in different ways. The most interesting have been delivered in the UK, where, starting from 2016, it is required, for mass timber products bound for public buildings, a chain of custody certified, undertaken through independent verification of each stage in the supply chain (click here).

The elaboration of standardized processes in the last years is constantly under development, and many types of research are financed for this scope. Since it is based on prefabricated elements, mass timber design processes currently tend to work in a Building Information Modelling (BIM) design strategy. Moreover, researchers propose the development of a framework to process the BIM model to encode building component information and connectivity and store relational information in a directly accessible state (click here).

Nowadays, the end-of-life of mass timber products has minimum information. In many cases, the elements are disposed of in the landfill due to adhesives inside the material. Mass timber products are also potentially considered biofuel burned in waste to energy plans for electricity and heat production. However, adhesives and chemical products inside are an obstacle to these disposal methods. For this reason, reprocessing and reusing timber elements is becoming an interesting research topic (click here). Alternatives to existing end-of-life uses can be tested by managing nationally or European-funded research projects (i.e., Horizon, LIFE programme, etc.).

Below is reported a not completed list of initiatives:

  • Evaluating the use of secondary timber in Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) production (click here);
  • Salvage Swings – Somewhere Studio LCC (click here).

Social

  • Can new training programs be developed to support the uptake of specialized construction techniques?
  • How can collaboration between stakeholders and associations be nurtured?
  • How could a synergic approach to data sharing and data collection be encouraged?

Assolegno offers two important web pages where stakeholders can find publications (click here) and answers to technical issues (click here).

Workshops

In order to improve the perception of timber construction in the Italian context, we have organized a series of workshops to establish challenges and propose methods to overcome them.

Living Lab

Living Labs are defined as user-centred, open innovation ecosystems, integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings.

Best Practices

The ‘call for best practice’ outlines a selection of case study projects which feature innovative timber buildings selected for their quality in design and construction.

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