Rampant inflation, a lack of skilled workers, decreasing construction permit numbers: Claus Greber, Sales Manager for Timber Construction Products at Pfeifer, has every reason to see the glass as “half empty”. Nonetheless, the professional optimist is convinced that the future of timber construction belongs to those that help shape it. In our interview, Greber talks about an atmosphere of high spirits in the timer construction industry.
Mr. Greber, as a Sales Manager you are in direct contact with customers. How is the timber construction industry doing at the moment?
Let me make one thing clear from the outset: We didn’t experience any real bottlenecks during the last year. The industry has done everything in its power to prevent a repeat of 2021 – with success. What we do see are decreasing construction permit numbers. These could create a ignificantly altered situation towards the end of 2023 and in 2024. At the moment, however, spirits on our core markets of Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, are high.
What are the biggest challenges the construction industry faces?
The current global developments and their results, no doubt. Excessive stress for individual players due to a shortage of skilled workers naturally reduces the growth opportunities for timber construction. At the same time, there is also a shortage of skilled workers in concrete construction, which delays the assembly of timber buildings. Furthermore, rising and fluctuating material costs make projects difficult to calculate, which is always a risk. Bureaucracy in the form of slow approval procedures, different building regulations, etc., and the indefinite postponing of investments also often turn out to be a challenge. Inflation, energy costs, interest rates and financing rules naturally play a major role in this context.
Let’s talk about opportunities: Why does timber construction still have a future?
Where there’s shadow, there is light! High energy costs are a death sentence for steel and concrete – the first opportunity for timber construction. In the long run, everything speaks for resource-friendly timber construction – opportunity number 2. A continued shortage of skilled workers means that construction times are also an issue, a clear advantage for timber and opportunity no. 3. Making construction green as desired by politicians is opportunity no. 4, and circular construction is opportunity no. 5. Construction methods with a high degree of prefabrication, such as modular construction, mark opportunity no. 6. The possibility to erect high-rise buildings – opportunity no. 7. The perfect properties of wood for elevated buildings in urban areas – opportunity no. 8. The growing awareness among architects, planners, engineers and builders for the advantages of timber are opportunity no. 9 for timber construction – and this list goes on and on! Specifically, the shift in thinking toward a circular economy and urban mining, or harnessing the urban treasure trove, will define the future. And in this scenario, timber has once again by far the best cards in the deck.
What does this mean for timber construction companies?
They will increasingly have to invest in digitisation (talking about BIM), even more prefabrication and shorter assembly times. Planning will have to shift towards material re-use and circular construction, which will increase planning efforts, however. The challenge is to train enough planners and architects and to provide them with the required timber construction expertise. The planners themselves will also have to change their thinking. When timber construction companies do the engineering, they will need more people, too. In the light of the previously mentioned ecology topics, this means one thing above all others: The timber construction industry won’t be short of projects for a while!