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The building of new walkways, boardwalks, and cycleways or replacement of existing ones is usually a one off type of project. Because of this, and the fact that the structure has to last many years, a lot of care is taken to choose the correct materials, design and contractors. A lot of emphasis is placed on long lasting, low maintenance structures and a little bit of internet research – using terms such as boardwalks in a wetland or sensitive environment - throws up a variety of materials for any project to use.

Materials offered include the obvious timber (which is a well known product to most people) and also throw in unknown materials offered by recycled plastic suppliers. If you allow your research to spread past UK shores, then US and Australian websites add other possible materials including concrete, composite fibre frames and reinforced plastics.Even Large Timbers Rot

All projects are different and have constraints imposed by the site conditions and the abilities of the commissioning group and, of course, budget. We have prepared a list of the top ten questions that you might want to consider in the selection of materials and your contractor and supplier.

Whilst we are specialists in the use and design of recycled plastics for walkways, we do not specify this for all our projects and often work using both plastics and wood if the project requires it. We do, however, strongly advocate that we work closely with the client to evaluate all the points below and help them along the decision process as much as possible.

Top 10 Questions

 1. Aesthetics – what colours and textures are available to complement or blend into the landscape? Will the colours fade? Is it a slip resistant deck? Will it be a low landscape-hugging feature or a bold design statement? 

 2. Experience - Visit an installed walkway on a site similar to yours, or one which has a similar use level as yours. See how it performs when you walk or bike on it – is it a slip resistant deck texture? Does it feel firm? It will probably have a little bit of a wobble if you make it wobble but that allows it to absorb shocks. Try it in good and bad weather conditions – don’t forget that ice is slippery on all surfaces! 

 3. Performance - What do you want your walkway to do? Think about the loads you want it to carry and the height of the deck off the ground – a pedestrian structure has a lower loading requirement than a golf buggy structure for example. The product may also need to conform to disability access rules. Look at the risks of the site – a boardwalk six inches above a marsh may have a lower risk than a walkway 1m above deep water which will probably need a handrail. 

 4. Case Studies – learn from others, designers and owners – question them, read their materials and find out the ways they were able to address challenges 

 5. Suitability – All sites are different and materials may perform differently on sites. Examples for consideration include: is your site likely to be flooded often, is there a fire risk – natural or from vandals, is there a good solid foundation or is it on deep peat, is it a formal or informal area? 

 6. Design Life – how long do you want your walkway to last? Typically timber walkways need replacing after no more than 20 years, plastics have a design life of over 40 years. How do materials look after 5, 10, 20 years? 

 7. Design Support – will your supplier or contractor assist by offering a design for your conditions and offer an installation package? If you are building it yourself, can you get installation drawings? 

 8. Sustainability – are the materials sourced in the UK or from overseas? Can recycled materials be used?

 9. Maintenance and replacement costs - draft a simple spreadsheet with estimated annual maintenance costs and add in a figure for replacement of the walkway. Don’t forget to include annual treatments if the material needs it and also allow for repairs. When planning replacement, don’t forget to include the cost of removing the existing well used walkway and disposal costs which can be almost as much as a new walkway. 

 10. Installation – the supplier should provide a list of defined procedures and methods of joining and using the materials. Understand what will be expected of the contractor as it helps eliminate future headaches. Engage the contractor using a recognised form of contract such as the NEC3 Short Form Contract.

As with all projects of this nature, choosing your material, designer and installer are key to the success of the project and we are always happy to help anyone who has an enquiry – please contact us using the contact details page.

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