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Timber Protection - Are we simply preserving the myths?

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Timber Protection - Are we simply preserving the myths? 

The Wood Protection Association recently announced a ‘Make Sure It’s Use Class 4’ campaign, which sets out to raise public and trade awareness of the need to buy wood which has been correctly treated to ensure it is fit for the purpose intended.  The campaign is designed to essentially promote compliance with BS 8417 which requires that preservative treatment is tailored to the species, desired service life and end use of the component.  As is often the case with standards, purchasers may be aware of the standard number but are unlikely to be familiar with the detail. For example, within BS 8417 Use for Hazard Class 4 category, there are three desired service life specifications – 15,30 and 60 years, so just quoting the standard is not enough. Clearly wood which is likely to come into contact with either the ground or water (Use Class 4) requires intensive treatment to ensure that it is adequately protected against all forms of wood decay and insect attack.

Whilst we at Jacksons Fencing welcome an enhanced awareness of the need to promote wood which offers the end user a better quality, extended life product, the campaign does little to qualify or specify the quality of the preservative treatment required to ensure it is capable of delivering the anticipated end benefits.  

Jacksons Fencing has been supplying timber with a 25 year Jakcure guarantee for 15 years.  The JakcureJacksons Timber Treatment Guarantee process is undertaken entirely in-house so we are not reliant on any external sources to deliver the appropriate level of protection.  Jakcure is the timber selection and preservative process unique to Jacksons, that ensures the treatment penetrates really deep through the outer sap wood right into the heart of the wood. Since the banning of CCA (copper, chrome and arsenic), many companies pride themselves on the supply of timber featuring the latest generation of preservatives.  However, the fact remains that successful wood preservation is less reliant on what preservative is used and more dependent on the actual techniques employed.  Badly treated timber actually encourages fungus growth and can actually have a shorter life span than untreated wood (lasting as little as 3-4 years in comparison with the 5-6 years of untreated wood).

First and foremost, and a fact not stated within the Make Sure It’s 4 literature, consumers and contractors must be encouraged to make the right selection of timber for the job in mind.  Promoting the use of Spruce for example, for fencing posts would be highly inappropriate, since this choice of wood is not reliable nor will it allow consistent penetration of the chemicals used to impregnate the timber to provide the appropriate level of preservative.  This results in flaws and inconsistencies in the finished product.

Secondly there needs to be a greater appreciation of what constitutes effective wood preservation. In order for the preservative to be effectively absorbed, the timber must first be thoroughly dry.  It is all too easy to believe that timber is dry if you only check the moisture content of the wood on the outside of the pack.  The way to dry the wood effectively is to place it into a kiln and dry the timber until it reaches a moisture content of less than 28%.

The next stage is to put the timber into an autoclave where a vacuum is created to pull the air out of the wood’s natural cell structure. Next the cylinder is flooded with preservative and a 12 bar pressure applied to drive the preservative into the heart of the wood (typically over a 3 hour period for timber that will be in contact with the ground). The autoclave is then drained and a further vacuum is created to pull the surface chemical into the timber.  The timber is then removed and stored for a minimum of 48 hours prior to dispatch.  Failure to comply with any these steps will result in the creation of an inferior product that is incapable of delivering the desired service life.

Clearly taking the appropriate steps to ensure the process is thoroughly effective takes additional time and money.  Yet most customers remain ignorant to the fact that any additional costs levied to cover this thorough and effective preservation process actually more than pay for themselves in the long run.  This is because there is a requirement to only pay once - rather than pay for replacement timber (potentially at least five times over since inferior treated wood will last for 3-4 years) over the 25 year period.  And it is not only a saving in terms of the cost of the product, if you calculated the additional costs associated with repeat labour to install the replacement timber, paying that little bit extra for a high quality, long lasting product makes a lot more sense. Paying labour costs five times over, rather than paying once for a product with a 25-year plus life span is surely economic madness?

This viewpoint can be substantiated by a case study of one of Jacksons' recent customers – Mr Peter Moynan of St Radigans Abbey, Dover who ordered materials for approximately 9000 m of stock fencing. His decision to opt for a Jacksons product was based on the long term view and was particularly influenced by the additional labour costs he would incur should he have to replace the fencing – and with labour accounting for 40% of the overall project costs, this would have represented a substantial outlay.

Let’s not also forget the implications of using inferior treated wood in terms of its cost to the planet.  Timber that needs replacing after just five years will not only place undue pressure on a finite resource – with five times as much timber being used over a 25 year period, it will also increase the amount of concrete waste product ending up in landfill sites by five times (not to mention the fuel emissions associated with the transfer of materials to landfill sites).

Surely the Make Sure It’s Use Class 4 Campaign needs to present a more balanced and informed approach to help purchasers of timber make the right buying decisions?  The use of the campaign logo is certainly not policed in any way and therefore does little to offer genuine reassurance to the timber buyer.  Anyone can apply to feature the logo on their marketing collateral and there is no approval process in place which requires companies to meet certain criteria to ensure they are taking the appropriate measures to deliver a timber that is fit for purpose.

Finally, the fact that this very campaign was actually first rolled out in December 2006 does little to add to its credibility.  Its founding principles were not right then and sadly, three years on, they remain flawed.

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