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Forum: Pain points in timber construction in Malaysia

by Aminath Mazyoona and Maliha Wasifa Khan | Universiti Putra Malaysia


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Innovative solutions are needed in timber construction in Malaysia. However, to develop an innovation, it is mandatory to understand the pain points or the main issues of timber construction rather than simply focusing on timber design and construction phases.


The forum titled "Pain Points in Timber Construction in Malaysia" took place on 31st March 2022 at the Dewan Rekabentuk of the Faculty of Design and Architecture, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). The forum participants were forty Master of Architecture students registered for the ARC5701 Architectural Innovation and Exploration course. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zaky Jaafar, the course coordinator, moderated the forum. The panel members were Mr. Ramli Bin Musa, the Managing Director of MyTeakwood Holdings Sdn. Bhd. and Associate Profesor Ar Meor Mohammed Fared from the Department of Architecture, UPM. The panel members shared their thoughts and experience of timber construction in Malaysia with the audience.


Mr. Ramli started his involvement in timber construction in 2013 when he decided to move from civil construction to timber construction due to the increasing demand for wooden houses in resorts and homestays. He found a potential future in timber construction, so he gathered a team and started working on timber projects. However, with the difficulties in complying with the authorities' regulations, his team started with timber constructions in rural areas where authority approval is not required. They slowly expanded their projects to the main areas by introducing engineered glue laminated (or glulam) timber, a sustainable material.

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From Left: Mr. Ramli Musa, Dr. Zaky Jaafar and Ar Meor Fared. Source: Dept of Architecture, UPM

Ar Meor started his involvement in timber construction by building a family retreat homestay using recycled timber from old kampung houses. Some of the timber pieces were 100 years old but were still in good condition. In 2013, he introduced timber model houses; however, timber construction was expensive and considered a high-end material. Then, in 2014, he saw the need for timber replacement for some of the deteriorating orang asli houses. Therefore, he started a project involving students using financial sponsorships from NGOs and government agencies to rebuild the homes as a community project. So far, they have completed 50 houses using timber, bamboo and weaved panels. 


In 2021, Mr. Ramli and Ar Meor, along with Dr. Zaky, engaged with the Pahang government to propose flood houses to help solve the rehousing and resettlement of flood victims in Pahang. They were interested in exploring timber because of the crisis and increased prices of other construction materials like steel. In line with this interest, the Pahang government considered timber a good alternative since the State has a good amount of wood available locally. However, many practical, economic, and legal constraints and challenges in timber construction must be solved. The panel shared their thoughts and experience on these challenges in particular.


There are a few reasons why timber construction is not appropriately valued in Malaysia. First, timber construction is becoming expensive or unaffordable. One of the significant reasons is the lack of skilled carpenters in this country. Our construction industry mainly hires foreign workers, primarily Indonesians, for timber construction in Malaysia. Hiring these skilled foreign labourers is getting very expensive, making it hard for the industry to rely on them. In addition, with the increased labour and machinery costs and the long timber treatment process, timber has become more expensive than other common building materials. 


Therefore, ready-to-assemble (RTA) timber structures were introduced to the flood houses in Pahang to cut down the construction cost and simplify the process. While answering the question on the importance of the RTA method, Ar Meor stated that the method could be the most effective and sustainable. He added that the timber structures could use products from a sustainably managed resource and assembling these structures does not require uniquely skilled labour. 


Mr. Ramli added that RTA houses are cheaper, produce less waste and have shorter construction duration. He further suggested that timber houses are becoming a modern trend, and the material has started gaining popularity in the construction industry. RTA timber structures or houses consist of prefabricated components that are simple enough for homeowners to assemble independently. In the US, around 30% of structures are prefabricated structures, and the practice of prefabricated house installation in the UK is as quick as 2.5 hours. The emerging and increasing demands for prefabricated structures prove their simplicity and lack of hassle. 


However, the perception of timber construction has contributed to a massive challenge for timber construction in Malaysia. Ar Meor clarified by referring to his timber housing proposal for the flood victims in Pahang as an example. According to him, the Pahang government authorities questioned the reliability of timber in terms of fire requirements and insurance. He concluded that increasing public awareness of the capability of timber construction would take time as this is a new trending innovation.


There are various reasons why timber construction is suitable, especially in Malaysia. For example, Malaysia has an abundant timber supply and excellent timber quality. In 2021, the timber industry recorded an export value of RM22.74 billion, 60-70% of the timber we grow. 


Unlike many building materials, wood is a living material. Since wood is produced with the sun's natural energy, it is endlessly renewable as it can be grown and harvested repeatedly. The Spirit of Timber exists, and it is flexible. Building with wood could also reduce annual global emissions of carbon dioxide. If Malaysia utilizes and makes the best use of locally grown timber, the timber cost will decrease and be more readily available.


Wooden structures look fantastic and perfect for a humid country like Malaysia. This material gives a pleasant experience to the people living or using the place. There is a variety of aesthetically pleasing timber structures, but the benefits of timber structures are not limited to their aesthetical value. Timber has low thermal mass, meaning the material does not absorb and store heat, which is suitable for buildings in hot-humid climates, contributing to energy efficiency in general.

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Q&A Session. Source: Dept of Architecture, UPM

Even with all the constraints, timber construction is slowly being accepted by authorities, professionals and the public. The benefits and advantages of timber construction are far more than any other manufactured construction materials. As a result, it is becoming more famous and chosen over. At the end of the session, Mr. Ramli advised the students to spend time in a forest to appreciate the magnificence of tall trees and recognise how they can be used effectively and efficiently to create our structures.

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