Timber panel system to be demonstrated in Old Massett

  • Oct. 17, 2011 2:00 p.m.

An architecture student is proposing a house design using cross-laminated timber panels that have the potential to become an island-made product. University of BC student Erica Mitchell is completing her Masters of Architecture thesis on housing in Old Massett and has visited the islands several times and has come up with a design that uses materials available on Haida Gwaii and also addresses some of the social needs in the village. She plans to present her layouts, bring pieces to build models, and solicit feedback from people about her ideas during an open house at Christian’s longhouse in Old Massett on November 2. Her house design uses a type of cross-laminated timber panel that holds layers of wood together with dowels instead of glue. The solid wood panels can be made of any of the softwoods available on the islands and can be manufactured in any size. She says the walls would be 35 cm thick with ridges carved into the timber layers that trap air and increase the insulating value of the wood. Her design could be turned into a kit that comes as a 30 x 50 panel with windows with options to make each building a little different than the neighbours. She also has a plan for ventilation issues that can plague reserve houses. The house uses passive ventilation through an upper ridge of vents that allow air to flow through as the heat rises. She said that black mold is a problem that can occur when the moisture of cooking, bathing and everyday life can’t escape. The all-wood walls also help absorb moisture from the air, which makes the inside air more comfortable. Ms Mitchell said human comfort levels aren’t just based on temperature, but moisture too. So removing the damp feeling increases comfort levels. In harsher climates, a homeowner would want to insulate as well, but the temperature on the islands should work well with this system, she said. The basic design was influenced by traditional Haida designs, with a focus on open communal spaces and using the kitchen as the centre point of the house. She shied away from using big beams due to their cost. She also noted that the front facades would be large panels that could be painted. “I want feedback as to where the project is so far and how it would have to shift to be helpful in the community,” she said. Cross-laminated timber panels are being manufactured in Europe and used in multi-story apartment buildings, light industrial and other buildings that once used concrete, masonry and steel. “I think it’s viable. It’s a little bit dreamy,” said Ms Mitchell about the possibility that these panels are able to be manufactured here. She said cost estimates from other areas suggest a cost of $17 per cubic foot for the structure and wall system. She estimates that a house could be erected to lock-up with this the prefabricated panel system within 2-4 days.