On the mark

Professional Builder magazine, March

Published: 20/07/2009 00:00

There are plenty of opportunities to sell-on the benefits of timber products to a customer-base that is increasingly interested in the environment. There are also legally binding reasons to ensure the right product is bought for a job that demands structural materials. Here Andy Fensome of Finnforest discusses some simple ways to identify certified timber and structural timber, and to understand and tell these markings apart.

Timber markings relate to various pieces of legislation. The markings exist to communicate information about the product, for example, where it has come from, whether the forest it was harvested from is certified and whether the material is suitable for structural use.

Using this information will ensure that the professional tradesman is aware of the timber panel’s credentials and correct application.  This should also avoid getting caught out by the legislation and directives surrounding the purchase of timber materials. For example, local authority projects are most likely to demand proof of environmentally sourced materials, while the increasingly environmentally conscious homeowner will also be rest-assured if you can explain these markings to them when installing any timber landscaping products, garden buildings or even new mouldings on an interior decoration job.

There are two types of markings relating to environmentally sourced timber products – the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC/16-37-006) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC® C002779).  These marks, stamped on the products themselves, printed on packaging of machined products such as mouldings or decking, and appearing on the point of sale information for lengths of timber, prove that the timber has come from forests that are managed responsibly. The merchant will also be able to supply the supporting paperwork if asked.

Forests that are certified for their management standards are able to prove that the frequency of planting exceeds that of harvest, and that wildlife as well as local people are protected through careful management of their natural environment – including strict procedures to recognise their presence and identify the habitat.

In Finland this is extremely sophisticated, achieved by Geographic Information Systems. The GIS system identifies protected habitats. This information is then transmitted to the harvest machine so logging is accurate and the operator does not log trees in protected areas or disturb areas such as nesting sites for endangered animals.

To prove that the PEFC™ or FSC® certification relates to the actual product you are considering buying, it is important to find out if it is Chain of Custody audited. This means it has a paper trail of documentation that follows the log’s life all the way through from the forest, through the processing and manufacturing stages, to the merchant branch.

Many merchants now also have independently audited Chain of Custody practices in place, so when purchasing timber for jobs that stipulate certified materials must be used, these branches should be the first port of call. When asked, they will be able to show a certificate that verifies they have Chain of Custody in place.

PEFC™ and FSC® markings should not be confused with the CE markings on timber. Used in all areas of manufacturing, and normally stamped on the product itself, the CE mark simply means that a product is fit for the purpose for which it was made.

This is particularly relevant when buying timber for use in jobs where the building regulations demand that a structurally classified panel product material, complying with European Standard EN 13986, must be used. It will appear stamped onto the sheet materials themselves, and re-iterated on any packaging. If it is not apparent or easily visible, ask the merchant who will be able to provide the relevant supporting paperwork.

Legally a product with the right load resistance has to be used, with strong implications and legal proceedings if the relevant paperwork for the product cannot be produced at a later date. It is important to ensure that the product is supported with load resistance tables to prove it has the correct strength properties for the job. Structural plywood is denoted as fit for structural purposes by the EN636-2S, EN636-3S and BS 5268-2 marks, while structural OSB 3 carries the EN300-3 mark.

It is increasingly the responsibility of the merchant to ensure they sell the correct product for a structural job. However, to avoid any confusion, the best advice is to tell them immediately what the material is for, and whether the job is considered structural under the building regulations. In this way your merchant can ensure you leave with the right material for the job.

Timber markings are an important element of the buying process. They exist to pass on information to the buyer, about the legality of the timber and classifications for its use. Understanding these markings and ensuring they are not confused will save time and potential cost if for example the wrong material is mistakenly purchased and needs to be replaced at a later date. For structural materials the risk of legal proceedings and the associated cost of these, is simply and easily avoidable if the time has been taken to understand and identify the markings while at the merchant branch.