Computer-cut plywood housing that smells great!

Facit Homes designs and builds sustainable homes using plywood from UPM. Founder Bruce Bell explains why digital manufacturing techniques and BioBond gluing technology have enabled them to make computer-cut houses.

Sustainability is about far more than identifying the right materials when Facit Homes plans a new low-carbon project. They assess every element, not just during the building process, but for the whole life of every home they create.

Bruce uses UPM’s WISA plywood, manufactured using WISA BioBond technology, to minimise the carbon footprint.

© FACIT Homes.

He explains: “UPM WISA plywood makes up about 95% of the structure which, as a proportion of the whole home, is around 50%. This is versus a traditional house which would contain 1% plywood, if that.”

Facit Homes was born in London in 2009 from Bruce’s interest in sustainability and his fascination with computers and 3D computer modelling. This, a master’s degree and five years running an architecture practice led Bruce to conclude there was
another way to build.

“I saw an opportunity to solve some of the horrors of house building for consumers,” he says. “We got funding to prove we could use digital manufacturing techniques to build houses and, in 2012, moved into turnkey projects where we do everything for the customer. We are a hybrid between house building and industrial design, handling design, manufacturing, costing and fulfilment and [we] do everything on site.”


© FACIT Homes.

Get the chassis right

The WISA plywood chassis forms the foundation not just of each house, but of the entire manufacturing and building process, which requires thousands of sheets of UPM’s WISA plywood. This method saves time, money and risks, and remains completely transparent to the client at all times.

The recent addition of WISA BioBond technology further minimises its carbon footprint by replacing around half the glue’s fossil raw material with biobased lignin. This is important to Bruce because their assessment of a design’s sustainability goes far beyond the norm – Facit considers embodied energy as well as operational energy and emissions.

© FACIT Homes.

“Sustainability has always been engrained in what we do, thinking about the lifecycle of a product and its effect on the world,” he says. “Our customers are savvy and they want to reduce their risk to long-term energy bills.

“We choose materials with significant embodied energy that use less energy in their manufacture. WISA BioBond gives us even more environmental credentials – it is a highly technical change and UPM have to make sure nobody feels the difference.”

Smells like a pine forest

Alongside the focus on low carbon and sustainability, Bruce has never lost his delight in one special aspect of his favourite building material.

“We have a reputation for coming in and doing everything – planning, design, utilities, all the tricky stuff. Nothing compares to the day that we start building the chassis because everything is built around that. Each step is pre-planned.

“The smell of a plywood build is something I love – like a pine forest. Especially when there are 2000 sheets of UPM WISA-Spruce on the site. It smells natural,” Bruce smiles.

But there is more: “WISA plywood is pleasant to work with, it’s light, strong and forgiving at the same time, it’s dimensionally stable and cuts easily, there is security and specificity in supply – even the tiniest difference could make a huge difference. You have to know it’s going to be consistent.

“I always go back to each house after 12 months, sometimes again years later, and they are as good as they were on day one.”

Meyer Timber has supplied Facit Homes with WISA-Spruce plywood for several years, providing a national next-day delivery service, with the option for mechanical off-loading facilities direct to site. Meyer’s origins date back to 1906, evolving over time to now being recognised as one of the largest UK distributors of wood-based panel products.

* This article was printed in the May/June issue of Supplying Timber magazine, and published by UPM on wisaplywood.com.