A proposal by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau (SPIB) to reduce certain load values of Southern pine by as much as one-third will face a second hearing on Jan. 5. If approved then, some fear the change could lead to stoppage or delays of scheduled projects, re-designs of current projects, and a reduction in the value of dealers' Southern pine inventories. Others say those claims are overblown.

SPIB's proposal basically recognizes a deterioration in some of Southern pine's qualities since the design values last were set in 1991. Since then, the increased use of tree plantations and a shortened growth cycle has led some experts to conclude that the wood doesn't perform as well under some standard tests as it once did.

The American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC), which oversees the setting and publication of lumber standards, had been expected to approve the changes at a meeting on Oct. 20. But ALSC received so much feedback that it delayed judgment on the proposal and instead just took comments. It got an earful, particularly from the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) and the Structural Building Components Association.

"NLBMDA is very concerned that this proposal, unfortunately timed as the economy and housing market struggle towards recovery, offers no phase-in period or implementation strategy to dampen any detrimental impact on the already depressed building market," the association said. It also said it was frustrated by the lack of communication from SPIB as that group mulled whether to recommend a change.

A change in load values could affect builders and remodelers by reducing the maximum allowable spans for joists and rafters, thus requiring designers to put more wood into projects. In addition, some dealers fear that reducing the design values would in turn make the wood they have on hand less valuable, and thus reduce the dollar value of their inventories. But its actual impact is unclear, as the proposal affects only Southern pine, and then only the pine that is visually graded rather than assessed by machine.

The issue could spread beyond pine, however. The ALSC has asked groups that oversee other species to conduct their own tests and report on whether they believe their species' design values also should be revised.