Gresham House Global Timber Outlook
Comment of the Day

August 21 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Gresham House Global Timber Outlook

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Once countries have basic housing for the poor and an urban economy has installed the infrastructure to begin to grow, there is an increase in wealth, GDP and income per capita. This allows for a move from public housing to suburbanise into single unit family homes, something witnessed in many developed economies across the world. In the UK, the overall number of ‘housing starts’ has stayed largely flat since the 1970s, but the housing mix has changed from public to private homes. At the same time, timber consumption has increased as, on average, a single-family suburban home uses around three times the timber of a multi-family unit.


The result is that even when total new housing starts begin to level off, timber consumption increases again in the mature stage of an economy, leading to a third wave of timber construction. Not only is more timber used in single unit homes, the home improvements sector becomes a significant additional source of timber demand. In the US and developed world it contributes circa 35% of all consumption by the construction industry.

Eoin Treacy's view

The big question for timber consumption in the medium-term is whether the trend of migration from cities to the suburbs will continue post COVID-19. The desire to exit population dense regions during the pandemic was understandable and not least because of the widespread public disobedience that characterised the lockdowns. The big question is whether that migration will be sticky. We do not yet know how long people will be happy working from home or whether they will miss the buzz of the city.

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