Katy Tomasulo 2017-08-29 22:20:27
Innovations in engineered lumber speed installation, improve home performance, and meet shifting building codes. Nestled behind the walls, engineered lumber doesn’t always get the glamour and glory as some building product categories with flashier, more frequent introductions. But it’s engineered lumber that is responsible for much of the home’s structural integrity and long-term performance, and as codes become more stringent and demand for quality increases, the category’s importance only continues to grow. Engineered lumber manufacturers continue to offer up innovative product options and newly designed systems that accommodate everything from energy savings to increased comfort underfoot. Savvy dealers who know their product offerings and their capabilities can be a vital partner to builder customers looking to build quality, high-performing homes—and there are ample resources and tools to help them do so. Steady increase Like the rest of the industry, engineered wood producers and retailers are navigating a housing recovery that’s climbing slowly but steadily, yet is still fraught with supply and labor challenges. “It’s a favorable environment on the demand side, in terms of favorable mortgage rates,” says Joe Elling, Director of Market Research for APA – The Engineered Wood Association. “The story is still on the supply side with the scarcity of construction labor and the lack of availability of buildable lots.” And though production of I-joists, structural panels, and glulam is still below peak numbers of 10 years ago, housing supply challenges aren’t holding back engineered lumber production. According to APA’s most recent numbers released in July, I-joist production in North America was up 12% in the first half of 2017, LVL was up 11%, and glulam and structural panel output were both up 3%. Manufacturers have been gradually increasing capacity to accommodate the resurging market. Boise Cascade, for example, bought Georgia-Pacific’s engineered lumber business last year and has reopened both of its mills with investments in new equipment. “We are definitely feeling an increase from the housing market recovery,” says Tim Debelius, Marketing Manager for Boise Cascade. “Honestly we’re all fortunate that the recovery is at a nice consistent pace rather than highly volatile. The limit on the system isn’t EWP capacity, it’s framing labor. We’re well positioned for the recovery as it’s developing from a capacity perspective. And if there was more framing labor available, we’d be able to supply additional wood.” Engineered lumber has been garnering more attention over the past few years, says David Smith, Glulam Sales Manager for Rosboro, as users embrace green messaging and installation efficiencies, and as technologies such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) make headlines. “Wood is good again with architects and engineers. We have a lot of projects and a lot of inquiries from the design community,” Smith says. “There’s excitement. The green message is definitely resonating with the design community. They’re really embracing wood.” Debelius says consumers are driving interest, as well, as they seek quality and a nice appearance. “Homeowners purchasing their home don’t want to see gray or weathered wood being installed. So we’ve focused on the appearance of engineered wood and making sure quality is high,” he says. “For example, we ease the edges on beams and joists to prevent splinters. It’s those little things that help make the builder’s life easier.” Responsive innovation As a structural product, engineered lumber products don’t change at quite as rapid a pace as other categories, such as faucets or flooring. Yet innovations continue to proliferate, particularly as manufacturers seek to help builders meet evolving codes, improve quality, and make homes more energy efficient. For example, for the past few years, engineered lumber manufacturers have been creating solutions to meet new fire protection requirements for floor systems over unfinished basements. Boise helped APA develop a series of prescriptive paths to meeting the new code requirements, which are outlined in APA’s System Report SR-405. These include applying gypsum to the bottom of the I-joist flange and installing mineral wool insulation. Several manufacturers offer product-specific solutions that also comply. Boise’s AJS 24 FMJ I-joist has insulation board on the web, providing a one-step fire solution for unfinished basements. “We’ve focused on ready-to-frame solutions,” says Reid Williams, EWP Engineered and Technical Support Manager for LP Building Products. “There are lots of ways to meet that need ... but we really focus on how can we to get a product to the builder that meets the builder’s needs and makes their lives as easy and as cost effective as possible.” The company has two product options that meet the code: Laminated strand lumber (LSL), which can be used in place of traditional I-joists with no modification, or LP FlameBlock I-joist, designed for builders who want an I-joist solution rather than a solid solution like the LSL. The LP FlameBlock I-joist takes the company’s Solid-Start I-joist and adds a thicker web and a Pyrotite coating that slows the effects of heat and flames. Weyerhaeuser has temporarily discontinued its TJI Joists with Flak Jacket Protection, which have a coating that enhances fire resistance. The company announced it is working with customers to address concerns about an odor in newly constructed homes with the product. The International Energy Conservation Code is another area the industry is paying close attention to, as recent changes impact the design and construction of wood-framed walls. APA recently updated its guide, “IECC Compliance Options for WoodFrame Wall Assemblies,” which it co-publishes with the International Code Council. The guide offers examples of wood-frame wall assemblies that achieve R-20 and R-13+5 requirements. Marilyn Thompson, APA’s Market Communications Director, notes that builders will soon be able to use a performance path for compliance, rather than just prescriptive options, such as using advanced framing to create more cavity space for insulation and insulating ductwork. “We’re looking at different assemblies and providing the design recommendations that help builders navigate the new options available in the code.” Along with products that address the changing market, manufacturers continue to improve and enhance their traditional product lines. Rosboro has reintroduced its BigBeam DF 30F 2.1E glulam, a high-strength composite glulam. The beam’s original Southern yellow pine core has been swapped with Douglas fir stock that the company is able to produce internally. The high-strength composite is designed for carrying heavier loads. It complements the company’s X-Beam architectural appearance glulam beam. Boise offers a glulam beam and a column made with Alaskan yellow cedar, a naturally decay-resistant species, offering an exterior beam alternative to treated products. Problem solvers Along with direct product innovations, manufacturers are educating builders on the best ways to utilize their products to improve the home. For example, LP educates dealers and end users on how to incorporate LSL into wall systems to accommodate problem-prone areas. LSL can be used in place of a traditional stick of lumber throughout the frame, from stud walls and sill plates to headers, rafters, and stair stringers, notes Kelly Harmon, EWP business development for LP. You can plug in LSL in certain difficult zones, particularly those that need to stay straight, such as long hallways or kitchen walls, where movement can throw off the look of the cabinetry or countertops. The swap raises the price, but, as Harmon points out, it’s small in the sense of ensuring a $40,000 kitchen looks and performs its best. “Part of the value-add that EWP floor systems give the builder is an opportunity to work with their dealer to plan ahead and design in quality,” says Williams. “With engineered wood there are opportunities where the builder is able to ID a key need and then address that need. ... For example, behind the cabinets, they can say, ‘I want high-quality product there.’” Using LSL can help avoid callbacks or time-consuming shimming of cabinets or caulking of countertops due to wavy walls. Harmon cautions dealers that LSL is a more complicated sale to builders used to using all dimension lumber, so the onus is on the dealer to demonstrate and educate them on how it will speed up time and eliminate waste. In the floor, LSL can be used in areas such as the island to help isolate vibration and increase comfort. “Those things are hard to quantify the value of until you start talking about callbacks,” notes Williams. “All of those callbacks have a cause, and much of the time it has to do with the framing lumber.” Harmon also points to door and window headers, where an LSL header can replace a site-built header composed of 2x10s or 2x12s, OSB, and 2x4s. That switch can save time, reduce the amount of wood needed, and allow for increased cavity insulation. Boise is also tackling floor systems with the introduction of BC FloorValue, a system for helping designers understand how the floor will feel before installation and how that feel is impacted by things like kitchen islands. Accessible through its BC Calc and BC Framer software programs, the system provides a deflection heat map that helps the designer identify problem spots. “We’re bringing new capabilities to the problem of how you design floor systems,” says Debelius. Weyerhaeuser targets floor feel through its TJ-Pro Rating program, a system that helps dealers and their customers select floor system components and assemblies that ensure a certain level of performance. Labor savers Engineered lumber’s position in the current market is particularly strong in the sense of the tight labor market. Builders are strapped for talent, and engineered lumber products offer efficient installation opportunities. Harmon is seeing high-production builders turning to panelization for roof trusses, wall panels, and, in some areas of the country, for floors. “When you’re talking about panelization and labor shortage, it’s one way those builders can keep churning out the homes.” Packaged framing also can make the process even easier and straightforward. Boise reports its SawTek EWP processing system continues to expand to new dealers. The company has been upgrading existing systems with new software and preventative maintenance, and the SawTek machines are connected to a data collection system that helps anticipate wear or breakage before it happens. Weyerhaeuser offers NextPhase Site Solutions, which combines structural wood products, services, software, fabrication, and marketing support, to provide pre-cut, labeled, ready-to-assemble framing packages. LP has a system for its distribution partners, as well. “It’s a very effective way to utilize engineered lumber as well as speed up the jobsite,” Harmon notes. Harmon says LSL is ideal for dealers offering panels, as it avoids the culling that dimension lumber is prone to. Beyond such systems, dealers can support their customers through their own product knowledge and by providing educational tools to assist both designers and installers. As always, APA offers a treasure trove of resources, including training videos and webinars, technical updates, and printed guides. “We’re always interested in installation education,” says Thompson, “and the dealers play a pivotal role in making sure builders are getting good, simple tips and instructing them on how to properly install the materials.” This includes “back to basics” builder tips that educate new installers on things like proper panel spacing and installing squeak-free floors. Recently, APA published a guide and a video on the use of sheathing as a nail base for siding, a technique that has strength benefits and can help with proper siding attachment versus installation without sheathing. ￼They also continually monitor wind storms and use damage assessments to provide recommendations and education on installation techniques, as well as offer input into building codes. “In the world we’re currently in, with a skilled labor gap and inexperienced workers on framing crews and on jobsites, the emphasis on training and installation education is very important,” Thompson says. “It’s critical for the successful use of any building material.” Rosboro’s Smith says that his company’s BigBeam DF is ideal in a tight labor market, as it can be used in place of jobsite-assembled products. The company hosts product knowledge training sessions, offers lunch-and-learns for the design community, and hosts CEU courses for designers and engineers. LP says ride-alongs with its dealers are helpful in educating builders about the benefits of using LSL. “[Dealers] know their customers, and their customers will usually trust them, so if they bring to them a good product, a great proposition, they’re going to allow the contractor salesperson to put it on their next home,” says Harmon. The manufacturer also leverages customer events, CEU classes, and lunch-and-learns. Software solutions Dealers also can assist time-strapped builders through the numerous software packages suitable for their use or that of their customers. Boise has expanded its software extensively over the past year, including moving more of its applications to the cloud. BC Connect, a tool that helps lumber dealers become more profitable through project management, optimization, and material lists, is accessible anywhere from any device. The company also has taken its single-member sizing program, BC Calc, from desktop to cloud-based. New functionality includes tall wall design. The manufacturer recently introduced BC Fast-Plan, designed for customers who don’t need all the power of the BC Framer 3-D drafting program, as part of its GP acquisition. It also offers BC Estimator, a rapid estimating tool that can pull a material list from an existing design. Rosboro offers glulam-sizing software, downloadable from its website, and LP also offers a single-member sizing program. Weyerhaeuser recently updated its Javelin whole-house structural design software, which allows dealers or builders to create a complete model of the project’s structural frame, with a new user interface to further improve productivity. Rounding out Weyerhaeuser’s software design portfolio are Forte, for sizing joists, beams, posts, and studs; Estima takeoff software; and Stellar, which helps dealers make smarter inventory decisions. With increasing pressure on builders to produce high-quality homes amid a labor shortage, it’s vital that dealers serve as an educational partner, with a working knowledge of the products they sell and how those products function as a system. Numerous tools and tech packages are available to assist dealers on being such a resource, while likely increasing their own volume and profitability in the process. WHAT’S NEW IN PANELS It’s not just the joist and beam manufacturers that have been busy. “U.S. housing starts are expected to grow for at least the next couple of years. Wood products, in particular, should enjoy the lion’s share of the wall-sheathing market for the foreseeable future,” says Leigh Ann Purvis, Marketing and Corporate Communications Manager for RoyOMartin. “Panel manufacturers are looking to develop products suitable for multiple uses.” Indeed, much of the innovation in structural panels involves products that reduce labor, solve challenges, or boost efficiencies. Huber is well known for its ZIP System, which combines structural sheathing with an integrated water-resistant barrier. Its most recent addition is ZIP Insulated R-Sheathing. “Our theme within ZIP products is to try to combine multiple functionalities and steps into one product,” says Allen Sealock, Product Director for ZIP system. “Even the noninsulated version of ZIP combines the water-resistive barrier. From the labor standpoint, you’re simplifying the process. It’s all about speed and ease of installation, especially in the current labor environment.” Georgia-Pacific is reducing steps with its ForceField product, which also combines sheathing with an integrated air and water barrier. This summer the company launched ForceField Corner Seal, a semi-rigid polypropylene with a living hinge down the middle; by bending in either direction, it makes it easy to flash both inside and outside corners. GP says ForceField is 37% faster than installing sheathing and housewrap separately. “They’re having trouble getting crews on the job,” says Jeff Key, Senior Marketing Manager. “Any way we can help people get in and off their jobsites and doing a task faster, builders definitely appreciate that.” INTERNET INFORMATION To learn more about these companies’ products, visit their websites. Companies highlighted participated in this article. ￼APA-The Engineered Wood Association: www.apawood.org Anthony Forest Products: www.anthonyforest.com ￼BlueLinx: www.bluelinxco.com Boise Cascade: www.bc.com Canfor Corp.: www.canfor.com ￼Georgia-Pacific: www.buildgp.com Huber Engineered Wood: www.huberwood.com LP Building Products: www.lpcorp.com MetsaWood: www.metsawood.com Norbord: www.norbord.com Potlatch: www.potlatchcorp.com QB Corporation: www.qbcorp.com ￼Roseburg Forest Products: www.roseburg.com Rosboro: www.rosboro.com RoyOMartin: www.royomartin.com Sierra Pine: www.sierrapine.com Stimson Lumber: www.stimsonlumber.com Swanson Group: www.swansongroup.com Universal Forest Products: www.ufpi.com ￼Weyerhaeuser: www.woodbywy.com Katy Tomasulo is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and content marketer with 17 years of experience covering the LBM industry.
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