The American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) approved today a reduction in some design value changes for visually graded No. 2 Southern pine 2x4s, but said it lacked the authority to change any other grades and sizes of the species until testing occurs.

The changes reduce by 25% to 30% some of the design values for No.2 2x4s, effective June 1, ALSC's decision said. In a supplemental ruling, the ALSC said the design value changes are also effective for all lower grades of Southern pine 2x4s.

The decision marks a milestone in an almost three-month battle in which opponents of the plan, which included dealers, builders, and component manufacturers, voiced concerns over what it could do to the industry and fought against the process by which it came about. Dealers fear the changes in design values could affect the costs of projects by requiring more materials and could force customers to alter or cancel projects due to costs further hurting a weak industry.

ALSC--a quasi-governmental agency authorized to set grading standards for lumber used in residential and commercial construction--was asked by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau (SPIB) to approve reductions in certain design values for several different dimensions of Southern pine. SPIB is one of many groups nationwide responsible for overseeing design standards. But in its decision, ALSC noted that rules on how a species of lumber performs must be based on tests involving a variety of grades and widths. But SPIB and a related testing group only looked at No. 2 2x4s, ALSC noted.

"The Board is constrained by this controlling authority to decline to approve the proposed design values for grades and and sizes of Southern pine other than No. 2 2x4 at this time," it said. "In reaching this conclusion, the Board is mindful that testing is currently underway on a full matrix sample consistent with [the committee's operating guidelines]," ALSC said. "The board urges SPIB to proceed with all deliberate haste to complete this testing analysis at the earliest opportunity."

In the meantime, the No. 2 2x4 design values "are approved with a recommended effective date of June 1, which will allow for their orderly implementation," ALSC said.

ALSC then sent out what amounts to an alert to the industry that the committee emphasized in parts with bold-face type and underlined sentences (here we've bold-faced and italicized them). "Although given the facts, circumstances, and controlling authority of this particular matter, the Board did not approve design values for the other sizes and grades and has recommended a future effective date, it cautions all interested parties to take note of all available information in making design decisions in the interim," ALSC's decision said.

"The values in the SPIB proposal represent approximately a 25-30% reduction. Many of the critics of the proposal acknowledged that some reductions were in order, albeit the magnitude of those reductions were disputed. All design professionals are advised in the strongest terms by the Board to evaluate this information in formulating their designs in the interim period."

ALSC's recommendation that affect groups respond immediately to the changes it approved contrast strongly with what those groups wanted. In December, a coalition of lumber and construction industry experts recommended ALSC should trust the wood already in use, slow its consideration of changes, and open up the review process. Aside from delaying a decision on Southern pine grades and widths other than No. 2. 2x4s, ALSC's move today does none of those things.

According to Forest Economic Advisors (FEA), an consulting group focused on the timber and lumber trades, the changes could create a potential demand loss of 1 billion to 2-1/2 billion board feet of Southern pine. The economic group forecasts Southern pine to retain large parts of floor joist, roof rafter, truss chord, and beam and header markets. FEA also says prices are expected to move downward with the changes.

Potential winners out of these changes could be lumber manufacturers producing machine-rated lumber, since their products aren't covered by the changes. Truss and component manufacturers using more lumber than needed for their products could also see the changes having a minimal impact on how they operate.

Those forced to buy new equipment or change the way they make their products could lose a lot in the form of money, time, and clientele.

For the past three months, the message from trade associations, companies, and organizations expected to be touched by the proposal has moved away from financial concerns and toward collaboration and the desire to have more input in the proposal and its process.

"The more people involved means the best ideas are put on the table and the best ones can be taken and put in the proposal," says Kirk Grundahl, executive director of the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA), who attended the Jan. 5 meeting.

The lack of communication from the SPIB over the fact that it started conducting testing several months ago triggered concern at both the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) and the SBCA. In October, NLBMDA warned that the change could lead to "possible stoppage and delays to thousands of single-family, multi-family and commercial construction projects directly resulting from a publication of new design values for Southern pine; re-designs of buildings, units of buildings, and entire projects resulting directly from the publication of new Southern pine design values; and a significant reduction in the economic value of the Southern pine lumber inventory for dealers, component manufacturers, and builders."

"The Oct. 3 notice by SPIB that was submitting the proposed revisions to the ALSC Board of Review for consideration on Oct. 20 creates legitimate concerns that we feel should be addressed now as a way of bringing transparency and accountability to this issue," said the NLBMDA in mid-October.