IN DEPTH: Engineered Lumber Products

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 Disruptive Code Changes

Code changes are disrupting the status quo, specifically IRC 2012 requirements to install drywall on joists in unfinished basements or use sprinklers to meet fireprotection needs. Builders are reviewing product and operational options to find the most cost-effective ways to meet these requirements.

“We’ve been spending a tremendous amount of time on refining our product offering due to changes in building codes,” says Denny Huston, vice president of sales and marketing for Boise Cascade Engineered Wood Products. “Fire is a big issue. In an effort to make homes safer for homeowners and firefighters, we’re testing new products all the time, looking at coatings, applications and product options.”

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Steve Killgore, vice president of sales and marketing at Roseburg, agrees that builders are examining new options due to the changes. “We continue to research cost-efficient fire-resistant joists,” he says. “But many builders are deciding that it’s simply better to add two layers of drywall to satisfy the codes for a onehour fire rating rather than buy specific products that are more costly.”

That approach can be counter-productive, warns Matt Meyers, director of marketing for engineered lumber products at Weyerhaeuser. “Many builders realize they have to make changes, and they’re considering which direction to go,” he says. But an unfinished basement may be a selling point, because it allows homeowners to finish it later their own way. “If builders apply drywall to the joists, homeowners will have to pull that off later to add electrical, lighting, etc., to finish the basement.”

Builders also have to adjust to the highest code level in their area, adds Doug McNeil, marketing manager at Norbord. “Changes to the building code are making builders rethink applications and products,” he says. “But the energy codes vary between locations, and some are slower to adopt changes. If the adjacent community has adopted a higher energy standard, the builder either has to adapt from building site to building site or change his approach to meet the most restrictive approach. It’s getting to be really tough out there for builders.”

Finding a cost-effective solution for what will add cost regardless of the solution has builders examining many options, says Kirk Nichols, general manager for engineered products at BlueLinx Corp. “Cost is a key concern in meeting the code,” he says. “Builders are looking at what will add the most value.”

Uniform enforcement is essential, to ensure a level playing field. “We’re all for code enforcement,” says Jim Walsh, vice president of sales and marketing at Rosboro. “It encourages the use of engineered-wood products. Without a doubt, we are seeing more aggressive enforcement by inspectors. Builders know that cutting corners doesn’t pay off in the long run.”

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