If precedent and the calendar hold, this week's delay in consideration of new design values for visually graded Southern pine could mean that mills and consumers won't have to deal with the effects of any changes until July 2013 or even later.

The American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) Board of Review had planned to consider the revised design values in a hearing on Thursday. But the day before, the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau (SPIB) requested that the issue be pulled from the hearing calendar. SPIB did so because the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), which had been asked by ALSC to review SPIB's testing of Southern pine and subsequent recommendations, brought up so many technical concerns that SPIB felt it was best to review and resolve the differences.

ALSC won't meet again until Jan. 30, reported the Southern Forest Product Association (SFPA), an industry group that handles press releases for SPIB. in a notice issue today. And at Thursday's hearing, SFPA vice president Cathy Kaake recommended that whenever ALSC does approve new design values, it set an effective date six months later to give people time to adjust.

The design values at issue involve characteristics like strength and flexibility that users of Southern pine rely on when they make a variety of building products, particularly trusses, rafters, and joists. Species-specific organizations such as SPIB come up with recommended values that then are reviewed by FPL and approved by ALSC.

The first major testing program for most species took place in 1991, and those standards pretty much have remained in place. But last year, concerns that Southern pine wasn't as strong as it used to be led SPIB to do some testing and then recommend adjustments to certain design values for visually graded Southern pine 2x4s that were at least 25% below previous standards.

Groups like the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association and the Structure Building Components Association screamed out in protest. They said the changes--if implemented as quickly as normally would occur--could potentially lead to stoppage and delays of thousands of construction projects and slash the value of Southern pine sitting in lumberyards.

ALSC limited the changes' potential damage by approving the design value cuts in January but setting an effective date of June 1. That gave dealers and component firms time to adjust without fearing their lumber stock suddenly would lose value.

Significantly, the changes made so far and the new changes under consideration (which cover a wider range of dimensions and subcategories than just 2x4s) are for visually graded Southern pine only; lumber that's stress-rated by a machine is exempt. At the start of this year, 22 of these MSR evaluation units were in Southern pine dimensional lumber mills. The consulting group Forest Economic Advisers (FEA) estimated that 20 new MSR machines are slated to be installed this year. Once they are, FEA says, roughly one-third of the relevant mills will have MSR graders.

Small adjustments in design values can have notable impact on how visually graded Southern pine can be used, as well as whether the product remains competitive with other species. Thus, groups like SFPA stressed that getting it right matters.

"Given some slight discrepencies, SPIB and the Forest Products Laboratory are working cooperatively to finalize the analysis of the latest test data, comprised of more than 300,000 data points," Kaake said. "This is the largest submission of date since the In-Grade Testing Program in 1991. Providing additional time allows for this science-based process to produce the most accurate estimates of design values."