It’s sometimes questioned whether the timber trade is benefiting much from the recent growth in timber construction methods.

As far as timber supply goes, there are certainly several specialist operators who have cornered a lot of this market. But there are many others finding success in supplying engineered wood components for timber frame building. And there are some companies now taking a further step by offering timber building systems themselves.

Palgrave Brown, already a supplier of engineered wood products to timber frame manufacturers, has become an official system supplier of the Kingspan TEK structural insulated panel (SIP) system.

The move gives it a total suite of products for the housebuilding industry, including roof trusses, TJI-joist and Posi-Joist engineered floor systems, TEK panels for the external building structure, staircases, doors, windows and Silktrim MDF mouldings. It can literally provide a house.

The German-made TEK system, comprising rigid polyurethane insulation sandwiched between OSB sheathing, has won a lot of plaudits in the UK and represents the most successful build system in the government’s Design for Manufacture competition, with three sites awarded.

Palgrave Brown became a licensed TEK supplier earlier this year and has just completed its first project – a small apartment building in Wiltshire.

“We have not done this before, it’s a new venture for the business,” said Garry Dyke, Palgrave Brown’s national product manager. “It’s very innovative and in the upper end of the timber frame market which is where we would like to be.”

Total house package

He said the company had sold a complete range of engineered wood products for a number of years but wanted to offer a total house package. “We looked at the various systems out there from conventional timber frame to structural insulated panels (SIPs) and other methods of construction.”

Palgrave Brown already had a good relationship with Kingspan TEK and TEK system suppliers by supplying them with engineered timber products. “We see TEK as second generation timber frame. The TEK system is 30-35% better than Building Regulations as far as its thermal performance. It’s also more stable than timber frame,” said Mr Dyke.

Palgrave Brown’s system supplier status means it can purchase raw TEK panels from Kingspan, design and engineer them and supply a full house kit to customers.

Architectural drawings can be converted into a TEK SIPS building design of up to four-and-a-half storeys, with floor and roof systems designed as required. Specialist registered contractors, trained by the Construction Industry Training Board, must be employed to erect the panels. Palgrave Brown can source a contractor to do this, giving customers one point of contact.

It is still early days for the venture and Palgrave Brown has decided to use consultant designers/engineers to work on a project by project basis.

The actual fabrication of panels is being done initially by other TEK system suppliers for Palgrave Brown, but the company’s intention is to set up its own system engineering and manufacturing operation in the next 6-12 months.

Palgrave’s TEK business area includes Staffordshire, the Midlands, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset. Its target customers are small developers and self-builders. It recently completed its first contract – a small block of two-bed apartments in Corsham for KC Property Development.

“The client was looking for a method of construction that would give a very good thermal performance,” said Mr Dyke.

Appeal to builders

He said TEK’s benefits of airtightness and quick and simple erection were attractive to builders.

“There is quite a lot of selling to do with the TEK product – trying to get across the benefits of the speed of build and thermal performance. It’s a new challenge, but there’s an awful lot of interest.”

Palgrave Brown has quoted on a number of other projects and is looking to recruit staff to take the business to the “next level”.

At the moment, the operation offers customers a full structural package – MiTek trussed rafters, TJI-joist floors, the TEK external envelope and internal timber frame panels. But over the coming months, Mr Dyke said customers would be offered the full suite of Palgrave Brown’s products, including doors and windows made by subsidiary Allan Brothers.

And he also believes it won’t be too long before the operation is offering bigger TEK panels covering whole elevations – something Kingspan is already doing on some of its developments. This means fewer panels being supplied to site.

“We think we will be doing a lot more in our factories for the customer in the next few years,” said Mr Dyke. “That’s what the customer is looking for – a business that adds value by doing more components.”