EXPLOITING a gap in the housing market is paying dividends for a North-East couple.

Colin and Karen Lunn set up Karlin Timber Frame last September in Stanley, County Durham, to produce timber-framed houses.

Timber-framed homes are quicker to build and naturally better insulated than traditional brick and mortar properties.

Mr Lunn, 41, who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, said: "A lot of companies are either off-the-shelf or are chasing the big developers.

"We want to keep volume small and concentrate on quality. Customers these days don't want the same as everyone else."

In England and Wales, the timber frame market has grown from about three per cent of new-build to ten per cent in two years.

Developers are enthusiastic because it meets Government regulations on insulation better than bricks and mortar.

They can also develop a site faster using fewer qualified tradesmen at a time when there is a national skills shortage in the construction industry.

"We are effectively de-skilling the construction process by bringing more of it in-house," said Mr Lunn.

The couple, who live in East Hedleyhope, near Tow Law, are hoping to produce 30 to 40 units in their first year, with target turnover of £700,000.

The company's four employees work in a 10,000sq ft unit on the Greencroft Industrial Park, in Stanley.

It already has a quarter of its projected turnover on the order books and is planning to double its floor space and workforce.

The couple started their business with investment from Derwentside development agency DIDA and UK Steel Enterprise, a subsidiary of Corus that supports new businesses in former steel-producing areas.

They were also supported by the county and district councils.

For details, contact (01207) 521300, or visit, www.karlin timberframe.co.uk

Published: ??/??/2004