A sustainable approach to the housing crisis in the Netherlands with prefabricated wooden houses

The housing sector is slowly but surely becoming more sustainable. Circular materials such as wood are increasingly chosen for the construction of houses. Eemshout Prefab in Groningen produces prefabricated timber construction elements, such as roofs, facades, floors and walls. The growing housing shortage and the nitrogen discussion have sparked a growth spurt for the company in recent years. “Our portfolio has never been so well supplied. It’s great to see that sustainable solutions are becoming more and more popular in housing construction, ”says Managing Director Pieter de Boer.

Innovative and sustainable SME Groningen

Often, small and medium-sized business (SME) entrepreneurs have their hands full with the issues surrounding starting and expanding their business. They have very little time and capacity to figure out how to become more sustainable or how to innovate. Groningen entrepreneurs are supported in this process through the provincial government Innovative and sustainable SME Groningen subsidy scheme. Eemshout Prefab BV received a grant for investment in a wood processing system. Using a machine that saws according to 3D drawings makes timber construction much more efficient.

The housing crisis: this is a problem that has plagued the Netherlands for quite some time. But for a company like Eemshout, the future looks bright, in part thanks to the crisis. A restart was made in 2013 after a bankruptcy. Today, the company’s 53 employees work hard every day to meet the demands of the market. “We can hardly meet the demand,” says de Boer. “Where in 2019, we already had to process 125 projects per year, there are 212 now. The municipality of Groningen, for example, is working on various projects related to a sustainable lifestyle. It’s nice to see that the construction industry is becoming more sustainable in this way. In the north of the Netherlands, the company mainly supplies earthquake-resistant houses. While in the west of the country, roof structures are mainly needed for luxury villas.

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Pieter de Boer

The prefabricated and the reduction of CO₂ emissions

Eemshout helps make house building more sustainable in several ways. When houses are built, a lot of CO₂ and nitrogen are released during the delivery and removal of building materials. Working with prefabricated structures partly solves this problem. “Because we assemble the entire timber frame from the houses to the workshop and then transport a full truck, you significantly reduce emissions,” says De Boer. “Thus, the emissions on the site – which are sometimes also located near nature reserves – are zero. “

Wood as a circular material

In addition, the company only uses wood as a construction material. “It is a lightweight material that insulates extremely well and also absorbs CO₂ from the air,” explains De Boer. In addition to timber construction, De Boer finds that other components and products fused together in housing construction are also becoming increasingly sustainable. “There are a lot of developments going on. Until now, for example, a lot of glass wool was used to insulate roofs, but nowadays you see that hemp or straw are also used more and more. From a price point of view, it is more expensive, but this is set to change if developments continue to move in the right direction. “If we produce more and more of these kinds of products in large quantities, the price will go down on its own,” explains De Boer.

Innovative sawing machine

Zaagmachine van Eemshout
The new sawing machine

In order to meet the huge market demand, the company recently purchased a new woodworking machine. De Boer explains how it works. “The instructions for the machine are generated directly from a 3D drawing program. The machine recognizes the data files and automatically generates the operations that this requires. By automating this process, the risk of errors is much lower and the turnaround time is also shortened. We used to outsource a lot of sawing work, which meant we had to expect a delivery time of four weeks before we could start production. Therefore, we are now saving a lot of time. It will be possible to increase production in the future. We are therefore extremely satisfied with the machine.

100,000 homes

Tackling the housing crisis is a priority for the new Dutch government in the years to come. The construction of new homes will be accelerated to 100,000 homes per year. So there is work to be done, also for Eemshout. De Boer: “It will be a chore, too, to keep up with the demand. Fortunately, we can take advantage of our new sawing machine.

Future plans

In addition to increasing production, Eemshout has even more on the agenda. The company is in the process of setting up a project around the reuse of wood waste. “The waste then returns to the Spa plant in Belgium. There it is then transformed into a new product, like particle board, for example. We still have to think about it before we get there. We have to think about how to transport the timber – is it better to do it by water or by road? We obviously have to take emissions into account in doing this. “

Read more stories about innovation in Groningen here.


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