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Every fourth wooden house for the EU comes from Estonia

Toomas Kalev, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Harmet.

Toomas Kalev, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Harmet.

To solve the housing shortage for example in Germany, 350,000 to 400,000 apartments need to be built each year. 306,000 were built in 2020, the best figure since 2001. At the same time, ecological construction is to be implemented. Great expertise with modern timber construction techniques comes from Estonia, the largest exporter of wooden houses in Europe. 

Architects and planners see great potential in the multi-storey prefabricated timber construction method. It is time and energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and wood, as the CO2-neutral building material, is sustainable.

“Every fourth wooden house for the EU comes from Estonia,” says Annika Kibus, managing director of the Estonian Wooden Houses Cluster. “The association represents 80% of the wood construction industry, including the largest manufacturers.” Its members represent the full value chain, from forest management to the range of end products. The wood industry is among the largest manufacturing industries in Estonia.

One of the leading manufacturers is Harmet, the largest manufacturing and assembly company of prefabricated modular buildings in the Baltics. With its 6 production plants and 800 employees, Harmet achieves an annual construction capacity of 210,000 sqm. Harmet’s product portfolio includes apartment buildings, hotels, retirement homes, student residences, office buildings, schools and kindergartens – basically any building that can be constructed from prefabricated modules. 600 modules leave the plants per month. “We are able to handle construction projects worth 20 million euros,” says Toomas Kalev, chairman of Harmet’s board of directors. He doesn’t see many other regional companies that can handle such capacities.

Smooth processes, efficient prefabrication

Modular timber construction, with its high degree of prefabrication, enables a high production rate, not least due to the protected and dry environment of a production hall with state-of-the-art CNC machines – precise and independent of the weather conditions of a construction site. “Our modules already include water/sewage planning, electrical systems and air system planning, right down to bathrooms and kitchens with their fittings,” says Toomas Kalev. They are delivered from the factory on flatbed trucks or shipped. Harmet has implemented numerous modular construction projects in Europe and the U.S., ranging from single houses to apartment building developments with several thousand square meters of living space.

However, production capacity alone is only part of the picture – efficiency is achieved through the seamless operation of the entire value chain, from initial drawings to final assembly and quality control. “Planning and engineering are key to smooth operations. They play a crucial role in unleashing scaling effects on large-scale projects,” adds Kalev. For this reason, Harmet has established its own subsidiary to focus on all planning and engineering tasks.”

“Modular houses lend themselves to the rapid construction of residential units in larger real estate developments,” says Annika Kibus. Modern timber construction technology is innovative and has produced new materials in recent years that enable new construction methods, such as cross-laminated timber, which allows the use of wood in multi-storey construction, or cross-ply timber, which is used for increasingly taller load-bearing structures.

Industry 4.0 in the construction sector accelerates processes 

Wherever complex or tallest wooden houses need to be built, Estonian companies are also in demand. The timber construction industry is highly automated. At the same time, Estonia is known as a pioneer of digitalisation and uses Industry 4.0 and automation applications for the construction sector.

With digital tools, Harmet optimises and controls the entire process chain to implement complex architectural solutions efficiently with fully automated woodworking machines. The software-based BIM (Building Information Modeling) method captures, combines and networks all relevant data of a building and creates a geometric computer model.

The article was published in the journal Allgemeine Bauzeitung.

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