Will wooden sky-scrapers appear in Russia?
The Russian government is looking for different ways of overcoming the crisis in the construction sphere and new stimuli for its development. Wooden industrial housing construction has been attracting larger interest lately, and measures are being developed to give a new impulse to the sector. However, the results are modest. And the main reason for that is a number of complex systematic problems which cannot yet be solved.
There are conditions, there is no development
The development of wooden construction directly depends on the raw material base and the technological level of timber stockpiling and processing.
However, Russia has a vast raw material base, which takes the second place in the world for timber resources. But it is not used efficiently and only constitutes 40% of the calculated cut. This index is twice as high in the USA.
Additionally, during recent years the forest management level has seriously decreased. In other words, we do not know precisely what is situated in the forests, what types of trees grow there and what their condition is. All these factors directly impact the investments. Investors are uptight about putting money in the timber industry because they do not know what they will get. As a result, only 23% of Russian forests have investments. This is not enough and, accordingly, vast forests begin to decay.
— If the state does not invest in forest management, there will not be any business investments in the industry, — State-secretary, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of the RF, Victor Yevtukhov, is sure. — Meaning, we cannot hope for appropriate development of the wooden housing construction sector.
Following him, a strategy of the timber complex development presently being prepared is to change the situation. A series of measures has been suggested to stimulate the development of the sector
Anton Siluanov, the RF Minister of Finance, and Denis Manturov, the RF Minister of Industry and Trade, agreed at their recent meeting to have additional conditions of the use of wooden construction prepared. One of them is that timber will be used on 30% of the social and cultural objects under construction. The introduction of amendments to the regulations of presentation forming and distribution of federal subsidies to the regions of the RF when constructing buildings using the methods of industrial wooden housing construction has also been planned.
Business does not see great prospects
It is clear that until business starts doing work in this sphere, the Russian wooden construction sector will stay extremely modest.
There are two principal obstacles preventing its growth. The first one is the insufficient demand for such premises.
Traditionally, wooden houses in Russia are built in the country. In other countries, however, residential and social objects are constructed of this material. In the USA, this sector occupies 5% of the GDP, in Finland 80% of houses are built of wood, and in Japan 40% are. Even in Germany, where there are few woods, this index reaches 15%. In Russia, a quarter of all construction is wooden, but only 12% of it belongs to residential buildings. The total turnover of commodities in this sector is only 0.5 trn roubles a year.
It is difficult to improve the situation without the soft sell of wooden premises. There are a lot of advantages, too, as wooden buildings are long-lasting, environmentally-friendly, sustainable and useful for our health. Their construction costs less, and the assembly time is shorter, taking only 2—9 weeks. On condition of the construction work being conducted to a high standard, such buildings might last half a century without needing any major repairs.
An interesting experiment was held in London. The construction of two houses, similar in performance, commenced in one of the districts whereby one was made of wood and the other of traditional materials. It took 7 weeks to construct the wooden house of and a team of 8 people coped with it. The house of concrete, by comparison, took 8 weeks and a team consisting of 70 people. Besides this, there was not so much noise or debris created on the construction site of the wooden building.
Another barrier in the way of wooden housing construction development is the lack of long-term credit available. Banks practically do not finance this sector, and they do not lend mortgages to buyers. To solve the problem an inter-departmental commission, including representatives from banking and insurance communities, specialising in this kind of construction was created. However, nothing is known about the results of its work yet.
No such commissions are needed abroad, where wooden construction crediting is organised there under general principles.
No way without the market
According to Dmitry Rudenko, Vice-President of the Segezha Group company, the industry will completely start developing when a real market of industrial wooden housing construction is formed. Presently, it is in its embryonic state. And the market will appear when wooden houses are constructed on a large scale in cities, including all the metropolises and both the capitals. In Europe it has already become common and even sky-scrapers are erected with the use of wooden structures. In Vienna a 24-storey building is being constructed in this manner.
On the contrary, Russian standards forbid erecting houses that are higher than 3-storeys. Officials have been promising to amend the law and change the situation for a few years now, but the situation remains the same. From the businessman’s point of view, the wooden housing construction market should be created on the basis of CLT technology (cross-laminated timber — Ed.). The output of such panels in Europe is growing at the rate of 20% a year. It is a very convenient and strong construction material, especially useful in the reconstruction of houses without residents’ resettlement. CLT makes it possible to build premises quickly and with minimal discomfort for the residents.
The backwardness of the CLT market in Russia prevents the development of this sector. В России развитию этого направление мешает неразвитость рынка CLT. The thought that it did not appear so quickly in Europe might also be consoling. 14 years passed since the appearance of the technology before the construction of 14-storey buildings used this technology.
However, if things continue as they do, it might be too late.
The RF Ministry of Industry and Trade have determined the target indices of the development of this sector, including the growth of the market by 10% due to the appearance of multi-storey large-panel housing construction, the increase of the share of wooden housing construction to 30%, and the total volume of the sector being set to reach 1% of the GDP.
However, the general trend of the wooden housing construction industry does not confirm these glowing prospects. The plans of officials and actual reality diverge greatly again. It is positive that they have learnt to voice genuine problems preventing the industry from development, but have not managed to take real measures just yet. As such, it is a little too soon to expect a breakthrough in this sector in the nearest future.