Homing in on the wood

Have you dreamt of transplanting that snug little wooden cottage in the hills to the pancake monotony of the plains, but have been deterred by the impossibility of the exercise? Here’s your chance to do so. Promising to turn around the tedium of constructing a house, a couple of companies have started offering pre-fabricated wooden houses in cities. While these homes are a bit expensive, they are easy to install and take much less time compared with concrete houses.

While Delhi-based Wood Barn India is importing kiln-dried rich Canadian spruce wood to construct homes, Lockwood International, a New Zealand-based wood construction company, is selling pre-fabricated wooden houses aimed at the luxury realty segment.

These structures are imported in a knocked-down form and assembled on location. Though technically they can be assembled by the buyer himself, it is the installation of fittings that needs trained hands. The only other requirement is the construction of a 6-inch thick cement plinth on a specified area.

“The building blocks are fixed by a special lock-wood technology without the use of nails, cement or steel,” says Ajit Sarin of MacDonald Sarin, which imports houses from Lockwood. “Like modular kitchens and bathrooms, pre-fabricated wood houses are made by fixing predesigned wooden building blocks,” he adds. These houses can cost Rs 6,000-7,000 per sq ft.

Wooden house: Explanation and comparison
• A wooden house is made from prefabricated panels• These are treated for termites and are water resistant• House is set up without cement, steel or nails

• You can build a one-room or a four storey house

Wooden house Concrete house
Upfront cost Rs 10 lakh* Rs 6 lakh#
Rental cost during construction period Rs 10,000 for one month Rs 100,000 for 10 months
AC cost Rs 600 a month Rs 1,000 a month
Painting/polishing Polishing: Rs 3,000 every three years Painting: Rs 5,000 one time/Rs 2,000 every two years
* For a 500-sq-ft room at Rs 2,000 per sq ft; # For a 500-sq-ft room at Rs 1,200 per sq ft The cost of constructing a plinth is higher for concrete structures

Wood Barn India sources its houses from three Canadian companies. A basic version, consisting of a bedroom and a bathroom, costs around Rs 4 lakh, which is Rs 2,000-4,000 per sq ft. The cost depends on the design, layout and the fittings and fixtures selected by the client. “For an area between 225 sq ft and 2,200 sq ft, these houses can be installed within 7-30 working days,” says Sanjay Sharma, director, Wood Barn, which has built 16 such houses around Delhi and Ahmedabad.

The best bit? Not all log houses need to look the same. You have options in terms of design, layout and colours. Some of these houses can be as tall as four storeys and as wide as a departmental store.

But are wooden houses suitable for plains? According to these companies, this wood is moth- and termite-proof and suitable for temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius. They claim that the Indian Forest Research Institute has tested pinewood for suitability in Indian conditions. However, some architects have reservations. They feel it is too early to say whether these will be cost-effective and durable. Till then, one can have them as weekend homes or room extensions but not as regular living quarters.

As far as maintenance is concerned, the companies claim that the only part that needs regular treatment for termites, especially in plains, is the plinth. While constructing the plinth, a termite-resistant mixture is added to the cement, and every two years, it is injected with the same mixture. The cost works out to Rs 1,000 for a 225-sq-ft room. But what happens in case of a problem with the wood panels? “Apart from the 50-year warranty against manufacturing defects, each unit comes with 10 per cent extra wood that can take care of replacements,” says Sharma.

Even though, on an average, these houses cost 30-40% more, it is made up by the savings due to the reduced construction time and low running costs. “Normal construction takes anywhere from 8-10 months, and during that period, most people are forced to stay on rent. Wooden houses help you save on the rental costs,” says Sharma.

Besides, wood’s natural thermal efficiency brings down the energy consumption, leading to low running costs. “Wood gives the most effective insulation with minimal temperature fluctuations,” says Sarin. “Besides, a licence is not required as the house can be dismantled and is not considered permanent.” So, farm houses in demarked green areas or on river beds where no construction is allowed, can go for these. Also, people usually construct on the minimum area specified to retain new land. These houses are a good way to keep adding as and when required. For those who need privacy in the main house, structures like a guest house or a gym with common access, come in handy.

As for the high cost, it is mainly due to the 37 per cent import duty on pre-fabricated wood. This is why most orders are from hospitality firms. “Initially, we are looking at the high-end segment, especially farm houses and second homes, but if we can bring down the costs, we will expand to the middle housing segment,” says Sarin.

With steel, cement and construction costs rising by the day, wooden houses may well be on their way up the popularity charts.

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