Building for years, mass timber construc­tion and cross-laminated timber (CLT) products are on the cusp of a boom as the economy seeks to recover from the COVID 19 pandemic and housing and commercial and institutional construction grows. The upside for mass timber building expansion is bright indeed, but challenges remain as the indus­try seeks to grow the product and the overall market for mass timber construction.



The mass timber movement is looking at exponential growth the next few years


According to Paul Kremer, a member of the XLam Australia senior executive team and a professor and research fel­ low at the University of Melbourne, while the global mass timber market was valued at $700 million (U.S.) sev­ eral years ago, projections are that the global market for mass timber building products will approach $2.3 billion by the end of 2025.


Industry analysts Forest Economie Advisors (FEA) project that global nominal CLT capacity is expected to reach 6.8 million cubic meters (roughly 5.5 billion BF) by 2024. More than 95% of CLT capacity will be in Europe and the U.S., says FEA's Art Schmon.


The industry's fast growth before the pandemic will pick back up afterward, Schmon says. Drivers include new build­ ing codes, government incentives, ex­ pansion of modular construction in gen­ eral and concem over the environment.


Schmon believes mass tirnber build­ ing is moving from the West Coast and spreading eastward, and he expects an­ nuai CLT production capacity growth of 34% through 2024.


Used in Europe for 20+ years, CLT and mass timber building techniques are more advanced and embedded there, but North America is catching up. The first North American plants were certified under APA-The Engi­ neered Wood Assn.'s CLT PRG 320 standard only in 2012 (Nordic Struc­ tures and SmartLam in Canada) and the U.S. in 2015 and 2016 (D.R. John­ son and SmartLam North America, re­ spectively). But now there are 11 CLT plants operating in the U.S. and eight in Canada, with more waiting in the wings to announce.


The 2020 Mass Tirnber Report, a col­ laborative effort by The Beck Group, For­ est Business Network, Treesource and Kaiser + Path that includes input from multiple CLT and mass timber producers, the U.S. Forest Service and Softwood Lumber Board, WoodWorks and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communi­ ties, forecasts exponential growth for the mass timber building industry.


Mass timber demand is greatest in California, with more than 100 mass timber buildings either complete or in design as of 2019. Other high demand states include Washington (more than 70 mass tirnber structures in place or in design) and Texas (more than 50). Ac­ cording to the Mass Timber Report, there were 248 mass timber buildings completed and 460 in design in the U.S. by the end of 2019.


The report notes that the number of U.S. mass timber buildings is expected to double every other year through 2034, to more than 24,000 structures.


Mass timber building is gaining an­ other boost this year as the 2021 Inter­ national Building Code includes three new construction types allowed for the use of CLT in buildings up to 18 stories.


"I think the industry is expanding quite a bit now into more commodity­ and developer-based projects," says Charles Gale, strategic business analyst for SmartLam, which operates two CLT plants and is well-positioned with its Dothan, Ala. plant to tackle East Coast projects. Gale, a contributor to the Mass Timber Report, adds that industry is growing beyond the custom, one-off na­ ture of initial projects.


Gale says that the "level of education and experience" of working with CLT and mass timber materials and building skills has grown tremendously in recent years. "More and more you're able to find experienced local guys who can work with it."




The benefits of working with mass timber products are becoming better known in the construction industry. Also, building code changes mean CLT is being used to expand scarce space in cities by building higher. Construction time is quicker than pouring concrete on site, resulting in lower labor and equip­ ment costs.


A 2019 APA case study of new First United Bank buildings in Fredericks­ burg, Tex. and Shawnee, Okla., 8,500 sq. ft. and 12,500 sq. ft., respectively, reported that architectural firm Gensler estimated the build phase was 50% to 60% faster than with concrete or steel, according to Gensler project architect Taylor Coleman.


Mass plywood panels (MPP) are an innovative use of veneer in a mass timber product,


Gensler and contractor Kendnel Kasper Construction, Inc. recruited local home builders who had experience working with mass timber elements in area residential construction.


According to the APA report, Inter­ national Beams, the manufacturer of CLT and glulam for the Texas branch, sent an expert to help train those work­ ers on panel installation, and by the third panel, they had it down cold.


It's that kind of commitment that is putting CLT and mass timber building on the map and winning converts.


WoodWorks' cost optimization check­ list shows that the four-story Candlewood Suites at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala., covered 62,700 sq. ft. and had an overall construction schedule of 12 months. That included 16 weeks to erect the mass timber structure.


A Kremer paper from 2018 shows that in addition to having standard eco­ nomic concems, the various stakehold­ ers in a typical mass timber construction project view the "value" of mass timber in different ways:


Developers have reimagined opportu­ nities thanks to new building codes for mass timber; architects have an oppor­ tunity to be on the leading edge of sustainability and optimize designs for cost and operation; white engineers can use the latest building technology and push the frontiers of engineering.


Builders see program savings, fewer first-aid incidents and tabor savings; contractors see reduced manpower re­ quirements, faster build times and in­ creased site safety.


Local public officiais see reduced dura­ tion of disruption during the project and fewer calls from neighbors about noise, dust, etc., and the end user enjoys reduced energy costs and maintenance white mak­ ing a socially conscious investment.


The paper noted that any analysis of a project should take into consideration these values as well as purely economic concems such as cost per square foot.




An interesting research paper from Shafayet Ahmed and Ingrid Arocho of the Oregon State University College of Civil and Construction Engineering that was released summer 2020 and updated in October looks at mass timber' s current position in the U.S. construction industry, current awareness levels, construction-re­ lated challenges and recommendations to increase mass timber acceptance levels among builders.


In addition to performing their own surveys and research, the paper also cites many of the technical articles and research papers surrounding different aspects of mass timber construction, from carbon sequestration and materials to economic feasibility and costs and everything in between.


In addition, the research team sur­ veyed more than 100 construction in­ dustry companies, including contrac­ tors, subcontractors, engineering firms and consulting companies.


Sorne 94% of respondents said they had heard of mass timber building, only 45% said they were involved at any level in a mass timber project. Of those who were experienced working with mass timber, 56% said they had less than a year's experience.


Mass timber availability is also an issue for those in the survey, with only 26% saying mass timber construction materials were "readily available," white 73% said such materials were "somewhat available."


The survey noted that 35% of respon­ dents said the smaller workforce re­ quirement is the most dominant safety attribute of building with mass timber, with 22% noting less risks of accidents thanks to simpler work tasks and shorter on-site work duration.


On the negative side 14% of respon­ dents reported some type of coordina­ tion issue during construction that dropped productivity. Another 13% re­ ported design and installation difficul­ ties. Interestingly, the research paper notes that survey participants "indicated that the unavailability of customizable timber panels makes it further difficult for contractors to use this product in a holistic manner."


To overcome market- and construction-related challenges, respondents urged more mass timber case studies to develop farniliarity and expertise, further development of industry-wide standards and more education efforts.


Availability and location are also factors, as the relatively small number and location of plants make it more difficult for mass timber building to take hold, respondents said, due to transportation costs.


The research paper also cited previous studies from around the world that had shown mass timber building costs are gener­ ally more expensive than tradi­ tional stick and frame or steel and concrete designs, though multiple benefits offset direct construction costs.


As an example, the authors cite another one of their research papers, a recent study on a build­ing in Canada that was 6.4% more expensive designed with mass timber instead of concrete. Meanwhile, a 2015 study of 18 CLT projects in Europe, Aus­tralia and North America found overall costs savings of 4% when using mass timber instead of concrete.


In addition to well-known benefits of lower energy inputs and emissions dur­ ing production than carbon and steel, plus the carbon sequestration aspect of using CLT, two respective studies have shown wood-based materials require 15% less energy over the life cycle of a building and also that mass timber buildings have 10% lower operational energy demands compared to similar concrete buildings. Studies have also shown that CLT construction sites pro­ duce far less pa rticulate ernissions than steel building construction sites.




Growing the mass timber building concept and developing markets and distribution takes time, and some is­ sues crop up.


  • Sorne North American producers are chafing that offshore suppliers with established supply chains and production facilities have been able to corne to the U.S. and gain busi­ ness with imported product. Transporting CLT halfway around the globe negates the product' s claim to a smaller car­ bon footprint, domestic produc­ers say.


  • Lumber prices. Though lev­ eled off after an amazing run into the third quarter 2020, lum­ ber prices remain high and such costs impact mass timber's sell­ ing proposition. Also, compet­ ing building materials interests are always quick to pounce on any perceived lack of competitiveness


  • Major European CLT pro­ducer Binderholz' s recent pur­ chase of sawmills in Florida and North Carolina has many be­ lieving it's only a matter of time before the company announces its first U.S. CLT plant.


  • Freres Lumber's mass tim­ ber Mass Plywood Panel (MPP) beams and columns are APA certified as of late October. Using its innovative MPP prod­ uct, Freres is able to produce beams and columns up to 24x48.


  • Finnish forest products giant Stara Enso has received APA PRG 320 certifi­ cation to sell CLT panels from its Ybbs, Austria plant into the U.S. market. A re­cently announced new $93 million CLT line in Czech Republic will also seek cer­ tification for the U.S. market as well


  • TimberLink Australia recently an­ nounced the location of its new CLT plant at its sawmill in Tarpeena, South Australia. This is Australia' s second major CLT plant and it will also pro­duce glulam.



Builders are altracted to mass timber's lower labor requirements, shorter timelines.


Source: PanelWorld - MARCH 2021