Mystery shopper research among merchants shows that the supply chain’s understanding of Use Class 4 timber treatments has improved since 2020 according to a recent report appearing in the Supplying Timber magazine, published by Timber Development UK.

The Wood Protection Association (WPA), supported by Timber Development UK (TDUK), has long been fighting to improve knowledge of the different timber treatments and when they should be used.

It’s vital that merchants understand the different Use Classes, so they can sell their customers the right treated timber. Otherwise tradespeople may face issues such as poor performance, shortened service lives, and even potential dangers if, for example, the wrong timber causes a deck to fail.

But things are improving. In 2020, the WPA carried out mystery shopper research in the treated timber supply chain to investigate levels of awareness in relation to timber treatment with wood preservatives.

The research specifically focussed on ground contact timber and deck joists and the need for greater levels of protection with reference to the Use Class system. The results found a severe lack of knowledge among customer-facing staff, with poor and sometimes inaccurate website product information.

Following the 2020 research, the WPA, TDCA and TDUK united to create the ‘Make Sure it’s 4’ timber treatment campaign for ground contact timber products to raise awareness of the different Use Classes and their applications.

Three years on, the mystery shopper research has been repeated among a selection of national and independent merchants and retailers. This time around, the survey has also examined people’s knowledge of incising techniques.

The general consensus today is that knowledge of when to specify Use Class 4 (UC4) levels of treatment has grown significantly, but more still needs to be done to make sure buyers can be confident they are getting what they ask for.

Back in 2020 only 3% of those surveyed knew there was a specific treatment specification for timber that is in ground contact. By 2023, this figure has improved to 69%. This is a positive sign that more of the industry has an understanding of these key messages.

In 2020, when asked what Use Class 4 meant, 72% of those questioned did not know. This time, the percentage of those who had not heard of UC4, or who gave an incorrect description of what it was, had fallen to 47%.

Know your Use Classes

Exterior structural supports such as deck substructures now require treatment to a UC4 standard.

How can you make sure your staff are up to speed with timber treatments?

Make sure your staff know the right language to use when talking to customers. Terms like ‘green treated’ are considered too general and no longer acceptable.

The correct terms are:

  • Use Class 4 for timbers on or in ground contact
  • Use Class 3 for external timbers above ground
  • Use Class 2 for construction timbers within the building envelope.

Good practice around specific applications has also changed. It now states all softwood decking substructure components must be treated to Use Class 4, bringing the UK into line with standards set in other countries. So remember, not all treated timber is the same, and timber that is used for exterior structural support must also be treated to Use Class 4.

Read the full report here