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Tall WoodTall Wood/Mass Timber Building Expected to Benefit Timber Industry and Rural Communities

By Lindsay Mohlere

Imagine mid-rise to high-rise buildings built of wood. Commercial buildings. Condos. Health facilities. All constructed with wood as a structural material, meeting building codes for safety and performance.

In today’s ever-changing world, it’s not a pipe dream but a new reality, thanks to technological advances and innovation in the wood products industry.

New Revolution

Once perceived by the construction industry to be weaker and more susceptible to fire than steel and concrete, wood has now captured the imagination of architects, engineers, and builders. Tall Wood/Mass Timber buildings have been around Europe for several decades with the U.S. market taking shape a few years ago. The utilization of lumber in multi-story construction means it has now become a viable competitive material to traditional construction materials.

This new revolution was the topic of the Mass Timber Conference, held March 23 and 24 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. The conference addressed how to increase the use of wood by advancing cross-laminated timber and the mass timber industry in North America.

Technology

Mass Timber and/or Tall Wood are terms used to describe technologies that include Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Nail Laminated Timber, Laminated Strand Lumber, and Laminated Veneer Lumber. Manufactured with thin layers of wood, these products are stronger than conventional timber and easier to design and build with because of their uniformity and straightness.

The advancing technology can be used as an alternative to steel, concrete, and masonry in a variety of mid- and high-rise building types. Mass Timber/CLT buildings are structurally sound and less expensive to construct. Developers and governments have also noted that mass timber construction is fully renewable, prevents pollution associated with the manufacturing of concrete and steel, and has significant environmental benefits, such as storing carbon dioxide. Using wood as an alternative will also have a positive impact on rural communities and the timber business, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Opportunities

Of the many experts to speak at the conference, one of the first to take the microphone was Thomas Maness, Oregon State University Dean of the College of Forestry and Director of the Oregon Forest Research Laboratory. His remarks focused particularly on the Northwest.

According to Maness, from an environmental perspective, the Pacific Northwest is the best place in the world to grow high value trees. “If you care about the environment, and you want to grow trees to serve a growing population, the Pacific Northwest is the place to do it. Our trees are high value, and they grow fast. We have the largest ecological reserve area native ecosystems in the world. Our forests are growing native species. This is the place to grow trees.”

Maness further explained that the close proximity of the Asian markets is also a major benefit.

“We’re positioned in THE place to produce buildings and ship them around the world. Particularly to Asia, places like Singapore and Hong Kong,” he said. “We’re here, and it’s relatively inexpensive to move wood to those places. The high quality wood that’s needed is not in those places. In Australia, they’re building a lot of tall wood buildings. There’s twenty buildings going up now, and the wood is coming from Austria.”

In addition, the increased use of mass timber and the building of tall wood buildings will also play an important role in saving rural communities here. “One of the biggest reasons we care about this is that Mass Timber means producing a high value product that will increase employment in rural areas,” Maness said.

Maness explained the most important measure is the number of jobs per board foot harvested, which has declined to about a third of what it was twenty years ago.

“Producing more volume of wood and doing the same thing is not going to make a dent to the timber dependent rural communities. We have to do something different. We have to do more with what we have,” he said.

Over the course of the two-day conference, several other speakers of note touched on the economic benefits, along with the structural, esthetic, and environmental aspects of Mass Timber/CLT.

Earl Blumenhauer, U.S. Representative for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, spoke about how the federal government can be a better partner in supporting stronger markets for innovative, ecologically sustainable new wood products.

Other topics covered included Mass Timber for Mass Market, Forest to Building: A Supply Chain for Advanced Manufacture of CLT in the Pacific Northwest, and Mass Timber Market Metrics, which quantifies the possible gains to be made through mass timber solutions in residential and nonresidential markets.

The conclusion of the conference underscored the basic theme. CLT, often referred to as “plywood on steroids,” is poised to be a game changer for the timber industry.

 

TimberWest November/December 2013

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