Thursday, 26 September 2013

Brettstapel! New visitor centre opening at Coed y Brenin

Brettstapel is a wonderful way of using Welsh conifers for construction.  Most of our softwood is used for low value items such as pallets, fence posts and chip board but now it can be used for real. The Brettstapel process was created fifty years ago in Germany and has just reached Britain; not just as an import but with local trees and local manufacturing capability. The first producer and the first customer are both in Snowdonia.

Building work in January 2013
The Coed y Brenin current visitor centre was opened in 2006 and was soon full to capacity; 155,000 people visited last year and more are expected on the back of a recently expanded network of mountain bike trails and other attractions. To cater for its growing popularity, a new building has been created, to house a bike shop with conference and meeting rooms above. This has been built with Brettstapel panels and is being opened by Minister John Griffiths on 27th September.

What is a Brettstapel panel? It’s a set of timber lengths joined one on top of each other in a tongue and groove manner to create a chunky-thick rectangle. Compared to conventional timber framing it uses something like 15 times the amount of timber. Far from being considered wasteful this approach is lauded as a great way of locking up large quantities of carbon.

For a customer such as Coed y Brenin, with impeccable green credentials, this is an important factor. The speed of on-site construction is also an advantage meaning quicker completion and less disruption to the constant stream of visitors.

Brettstapel panel
WilliamsHomes, a timber framing company in Bala, used kiln-dried lengths of Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce to create the panels. Timbers are stacked like a deck of narrow cards and joined together by drilling through the deck and hammering in hardwood dowels. Danish oil and several coats of a flame retardant substance are applied before delivery to site as a finished product needing no further work to the facing surface. The grains of the different types of timber make a pleasing pattern with a pink tinge to the Douglas Fir.

On the cold January day when I visited the construction site the only panels I could see were floor panels – a bit like parquet but eight inches deep!

The Coed y Brenin project is part of an ERDF funded (European Regional Development Fund) initiative to create a hub of activities in central / southern Snowdonia including Antur Stiniog, the people behind the downhill biking above Blaenau Ffestiniog. 

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