Story | 06/21/2023 08:40:36 | 7 min Read time

UK construction downtime sparks sustainability collaboration

A hiatus for the construction business in the UK helped two companies to create exciting new innovations which led to a collaboration using WISA plywood from UPM.

A lull in activity during the Covid pandemic gave timber and panel distributors James Latham and innovative Passivhaus housing specialist Kiss House the space to rethink and reinvent – and ultimately unite to prove sustainability works. 
Historic experience and Passivhaus building came together as Kiss House approved Latham’s new carbon calculator, which enables buyers and specifiers to understand the carbon footprint and sustainability of every timber product sold by Latham’s, including top ranking WISA plywoods. 
The calculator, developed with experts from Bangor University’s Biocomposites Centre in Wales, ranks products under two categories. First the carbon footprint measured for the finished product, its transport to a Latham’s depot and warehousing until it leaves their site, the second assessing the product’s credibility based on Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which provide published data such as certification of sustainable sourcing.

Keep it simple

“There’s a lot going on…” is the understatement from Kiss House founder Mike Jacob. There are patents pending, the first two Passivhaus homes in Reading being built this year, demo house is under construction, trials of enhanced fibre insulation, in-house Passivhaus-standard window manufacture starting this spring and a timber residential low rise construction kit in the pipeline. But there’s also the ‘holy grail’ of sustainable housebuilding…

Mike Jacob, a philosophy graduate who got into construction by accident and came up with the Kiss ‘keep it simple’ House concept round his kitchen table always believed in doing things differently.

“The Kiss House product is a pre-designed, customisable, Passivhaus standard home that’s manufactured off site. This is the alternative to employing an architect because it’s already been engineered, so we take the risk, not the customer,” Jacob explains. 
“The most striking example of our thinking is the ground floor system. Everybody said ‘You can’t do it’. I found an engineer to test our idea and six months later he said ‘You found the holy grail!’.”

Plywood through and through

Kiss House uses WISA-Birch Premium and WISA-Spruce in ways even Mike Jacob never believed possible when he took a master’s degree in architecture and became a chartered construction manager, just as interest in low energy construction was gaining ground in the early 2000s. “My enquiring mind wanted to turn everything on its head,” he explains. “I worked on bespoke houses, using different materials and techniques, always starting from scratch. How could we do things better?  
“Then we got breathing space. Now our entire building system is made from scratch using plywood, which we switched to during our intense research and development in lockdown, and other timber materials that we process into components. Wood is renewable, we can work it off site because of the weight and manufacture accurately. We use WISA plywood for walls, precision engineered structural columns and wall linings instead of plasterboard. We use less material more efficiently and it’s easy to transport and everything can be recycled or repurposed. Now UPM have incorporated BioBond glue for binding plywood, that’s another reason we look to them for innovations.”

“UPM are market leaders and WISA is a known brand and quality from the right sources. Latham’s solidified that relationship when Stuart Devoil asked us to be ambassadors for the carbon calculator.”

Proven concept

Speaking for James Latham, Stuart Devoil added: “We have 265 years’ experience in timber supply and innovation. The calculator came from a ‘Wouldn’t it be good if…’ idea and downtime during the covid lockdowns. We wanted to help customers decide why to buy particular products. But I was interested in getting the message to people way before than before they made their specification and buying choice. If you’re an architect and part of the spec is carbon reduction this is a resource on the carbon value of your building.” 
“We spoke to Kiss House to validate that idea and the synergy was great. Now they are using WISA-Birch Premium in their new head office and demo space in Reading. They have confirmed our concept is proven with UPM products performing so well they have an exciting expert designer and developer incorporating them into revolutionary Kiss House homes.”


Photo: Kiss House


UPM Plywood goes full circle – three times

James Latham’s unique carbon calculator was given the gold seal of approval at the UK’s leading sustainable construction exhibition.

  • Kiss House gave's UPM WISA-Birch Premium plywood a central role in their construction of a lecture theatre and sustainability commitment exhibition at Futurebuild 2022. Plywood elements were later reused for the Offsite Expo 2022 VIP area and this year they will be reused a third time, in a zero carbon Passivhaus home designed by Kiss House in Reading in the UK.
  • The carbon calculator ranks all WISA plywood products sold by James Latham at No 1 and Futurebuild is regarded as the top sustainable construction show in the UK.  
  • Kiss House built a wall cassette and suspended floor cassette which were craned into position within the exhibition, creating a mini auditorium where the calculator concept was presented by experts from James Latham, Kiss House and UPM. This won Futurebuild’s Best Environmental Stand award at the London show.
  • There was so much interest that Kiss House set up two open days in November 2022 - these had to be repeated in January 2023 to cater for all the professionals and public who wanted to know more.
  • Futurebuild also invited Latham’s to create triangular pillars to display posters expressing construction supply chain companies’ commitment to Taking A Stand for a net zero future and building a better environment. These were made using WISA-Spruce plywood which was donated after the show to a member of the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) to be used to build a small sustainable home.

Kiss House has an impressive line-up of awards for the company, its people and designs.  

  • Founder Mike Jacob is a past Constructing Excellence Achiever of the Year and Building Magazine 50 Rising Stars of Sustainability winner.
  • Founder Carli Jordan won a Sue Ryder Women of Achievement Business Award.
  • Kiss House Technical Manufacturing Director Richard Green and Operations Director Kieran Coe were part of the team that built The Forge office development in London - that won Digital Construction Awards as ‘Digital Innovation in Offsite Construction’ and ‘Project of the Year’, and the two directors were named Construction News ‘Ones to Watch 2022’.
  • Kiss House won an Oxford Property Festival Best Housing Solution. 
  • Ashraya – a new generation country house delivered by Kiss House – has just been announced as winner of the RIBA East Building of the Year 2023!