It’s no secret that the economic downturn prompted builders to cut costs whenever possible. But it’s been less noted that when many of those builders examined which materials to trim, they refused to drop engineered wood products (EWPs) despite their higher cost.
APA-the Engineered Wood Association reports that I-joists rose from 46% of the market for raised wood floors between 2005 and 2007 to account for 52% in 2008 and 2010. “That tells us that builders are sold on new technology, they’re continuing to use it,” says Craig Adair, director of market research.
I-joists also are pulling along segments like laminated veneer lumber, Adair says. Although LVL’s 2011 production level of 42 million cubic feet is less than half that of 2005, its share of the beam and header market has held.
Housing’s recovery should help increase production by itself, but experts see other drivers kicking in as well. They include EWP’s reputation as a green product, lower design values for visually graded lumber, and new energy codes.
EWP’s green credentials come in part because engineered wood makes more and better use of timber when it’s manufactured. In addition, because joists can be cut to precision by the dealer or manufacturer, there is no construction waste at the building site.
Given those qualities, it’s understandable why EWP beams, joists, and trusses rank second only to Low-E windows in a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey of green products that contractors said they are likely to put into single-family homes by 2015.
Re-designed Value This summer’s drop in design values for visually graded Southern pine, and the potential for changes to other species, may provide a boon for engineered wood, says ProBuild’s vice president of forest products, John Mikkelson. “There’s an interest on the part of a lot of our customers who have been using open-web floor trusses or even solid-sawn lumber to take a look again at engineered wood,” he says.
Tim Debelius, Trus Joist product manager at Weyerhaeuser, says 2x10s and 2x12s made of the affected pine could lose two to three feet of span rating, giving builders “an opportunity or necessity” to consider engineered wood.
But swapping open-web systems for I-joists requires the knowledge and tools to cut through the engineered wood product—particularly for those builders who want to run HVAC systems through conditioned spaces so the homeowner can save big on heating and cooling costs.
“With floor trusses, it’s pretty easy to run ductwork through the floors,” Mikkelson says. “You can’t on engineered wood, on I-joists and so forth. You have to facilitate it by having holes cut.” Debelius adds that another option would be to move the joists farther apart or alternatively, to drop the ductwork below the floor system.
Code Rules New, energy-saving products may see broader application as codes such as the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) and International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), along with the newly released 2012 International Green Construction Code, begin the lengthy and inconsistent process of nationwide adoption. Mikkelson says this may also push the relative growth of radiant barrier sheathing in some regions.
L.P. Building Products’ TechShield radiant barrier sheathing matches the look and installation techniques for regular roof sheathing with an aluminum exterior attached, helping to keep 97% of radiant heat from permeating the roof. The result could cut monthly cooling costs by one-third, the company says.
According to L.P.’s OSB marketing manager, Judy Musgrove, the use of radiant barriers as “extremely cost-effective ways to meet increasingly stringent energy codes,” is now a habit for big builders and increasingly common among smaller ones.
Georgia Pacific’s Thermostat plywood radiant barrier sheathing is designed for attic applications in warm climates and works in tandem with insulation to lower energy consumption by up to 17%, the company says.
Weyerhaeuser plans to expand radiant barrier sheathing production to target the Western U.S. market, says OSB product manager Chris Degnan.
Stability is also a concern. To meet builder demand, Weyerhaeuser added proprietary Flak Jacket protection to its Trus Joist TJI joist line , boosting fire resistance via one-hour floor and ceiling assemblies to meet the IRC 2012 fire code in single and multi-family applications, using a single layer of gypsum and no mineral wool.
Huber’s Zip System roof and wall sheathing offers an alternative to builders accommodating energy codes, says Matt O’Brien, vice president of commercial operations at Huber. “It’s a complex challenge … [the codes] really require they think about the way they build,” he says. “It doesn’t just entail putting up a new product.”
The system’s panels adhere with proprietary tape along seams, substituting the need for house wrap with built-in barriers that protect the R-value of insulation and keep moisture out.
O’Brien adds that the while the downturn forced many builders into less expensive products in order to compete, the backlash of costly and time-consuming repairs is spurring their return to value-added products, including the company’s Advantech premium subfloor .
Edge Gold Flooring panels by Weyerhaeuser, too, received an upgrade. Three drainage grooves on one of the narrow ends of each 4-foot by 8-foot panel now protect against clogging and facilitate drainage on the jobsite even if the panels are not properly gapped.
And Ainsworth Engineered upped the value of its pointSIX Durastrand OSB floorboards (Circle 62), doubling its no-sand warranty to one year.
TruBoard is a new NAHB “green-approved” OSB structural panel from Norbord; available with either FSC or SFI Chain-of-Custody wood. Nordic’s X-Lam cross-laminated timber panels come in architectural or industrial grades and are designed for low- and mid-rise multi-family and light commercial.
Hitting the Floor Interior flooring is also seeing a shift to engineered wood for its installation efficiency and longer lifecycle.
Owens’ Plankfloor is warrantied over radiant heat and doesn’t require an additional substrate when gluing. It’s available in three thicknesses, six stain colors and a range of exotic and domestic species including tigerwood, ash, and yellow and red birch. Terra Lengo’s engineered wood flooring uses FSC-certified, 100% Russian Birch hardwood sealed with nine layers of coating, each UV-cured.
Elsewhere on the envelope, the engineered cedar siding and paneling by Cedar-Lam features a plywood backer and clear, western red cedar facing in joint-free lengths of up to 16 feet.
New Tech The new round of interest in EWPs provides opportunities for dealer to provide knowledge at the point of sale.
Ainsworth’s “Tips for Seasoned Pros” video series offers a low-tech medium for picking up engineered wood product framing best practices. It is available at TipsForSeasonedPros.com and is smartphone-accessible via YouTube.
Boise Cascade’s BC Connect portal goes beyond plain-jane cutting systems to integrate the supply chain on a real-time, whole-house design platform. “It allows one person to do the entire house, which is a huge step forward in efficiency for the retail lumber dealer,” says Denny Huston, Boise’s EWP general sales manager; he estimates dealers could see between three and four hours of time savings on take-offs.
Estima , Weyerhaeuser’s new take-off software, is designed to smooth the process on the dealer end—something that Mikkelson adds is becoming important for dealers as EWPs grab market share from dimensional lumber and more builders ask for quotes.
“Builders, or at least the ones that I’ve been familiar with in our [market], are wanting to take another look” at engineered wood, Mikkelson says.