Experts: Taller Timber Builds to Solve Ireland’s Housing Puzzle

Unlocking the country's Sitka spruce forest stock will accelerate the Irish push to net zero.

Sun 05 May 24


Ireland has a “huge opportunity” to ramp up timber-based construction – capitalising on its growing stock of Sitka spruce (or Picea sitchensis), which can be easily cut, milled and reduced into products for future Irish buildings and homes.

That is according to Patrick McGetrick, a structural engineer and lecturer at the University of Galway, who presented the paper “Timber for Sustainable Construction”, now calling on the government to ramp up tree planting and invest in higher-density buildings to meet population targets.

“If we are going to build 50,000 houses every year, we won’t meet that target if we stay with traditional materials,” he said, adding that Ireland “has a huge opportunity because of the amount of timber that will be available over the coming years.”

In addition to lower-density housing, Ireland has one of Europe’s most uneven population distributions. Footage courtesy of @GeographyWorld.

Last year, Wood Central reported that the Irish government failed to meet reforestation targets and ranked among the EU’s lowest for planting.

To date, more than 11% of the Irish land mass is covered by forests (up from 1.4% 100 years ago), with Ireland aiming to have 17% forest cover by 2030—aided by a €1.3 billion forestry programme approved in 2022.

“There are a lot of benefits to timber,” according to Dr McGetrick, adding that “it’s a local homegrown resource, it’s a renewable natural resource, and it can be renewed.”

According to Dr McGetrick, Ireland has the lowest number of people living in apartments compared to the EU average – including Dublin, which has a much lower amount of low and mid-rise apartment blocks compared to major cities across Europe. 

Last year, the BBC reported that Ireland’s construction market was in freefall after a banking collapse led to an infrastructure shortfall, which left young people facing soaring rents and overcrowding.

“Housing is a challenge,” the IDA chief executive Michael Lohan told the Irish Times Inside Business podcast, adding that “our clients are telling us they see growth opportunity in Ireland. But we need to solve the carrying capacity issues, and housing is one of these major issues.”

Dr McGetrick said that Ireland’s construction squeeze is unique given the historical make-up of housing stock.

“Across Europe, on average 48% of people live in apartments compared with just 8% who live in apartments here in Ireland,” arguing that a shift to higher density, added by using higher value mass timber construction products, could help accelerate the construction of new homes.

However, to do this, Forestry Ireland said the government needs to stop favouring native woodlands over commercial forestry. 

Forestry Ireland argues that more than 100,000 hectares of commercial forests—or 25% of the country’s total forest plantation (worth €3 billion) —could be lost under the government’s new biodiversity rules, with planting still 80% below targets.

The programme was announced in November 2022. Footage courtesy of @rtenews.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish-based Sunday Independent, Forest Industries Ireland director Mark McAudley expressed concern with the new rules, which require more broadleaf species to be planted in plantations. While this boosts diversity, it reduces yield.

“We are absolutely in favour of measures to increase biodiversity and nature,” Mr McAudley said, “but I don’t think we should try to get all of our forests to do all things.” 

“You should concentrate on optimising biodiversity forests for nature on the one hand and optimising commercial forests for commerciality and timber on the other,” he said.

To learn more about Ireland’s forest plan, visit Wood Central’s special feature.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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