IN DEPTH: Engineered Lumber Products

Multifamily Housing Grows

Another major boost to ELP has come from growth in the multifamily residential market. “Multifamily housing has certainly been very strong and has taken a lot of the ELP that’s available,” APA’s Elling says. Housing starts are up in that segment for the first half of 2014 by 18% versus 1% in single-family housing, he notes. “That’s where the growth has come. Multifamily construction is running at about the same level as it was in the mid-2000s.”

ELP volume is rising, not only due to more starts, but also because of more usage in each project, says Jeff Stefani, chief engineer and regional sales manager for Anthony Forest Products. “Engineered wood is being used more in the multifamily and nonresidential markets, and we’re encouraging that use. Wood use in nonresidential markets definitely has more potential. It’s especially good for commercial buildings up to four or five stories tall right now.”

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Light-commercial properties, such as hotels and schools, are key targets, he says. “Some states disallowed wood construction for schools until recently, but now that’s changed and its use is growing due to green-building awareness.” Organizations such as Woodworks (www.woodworks.org), run by the Wood Products Council, are encouraging architects and developers to look at wood options.

Codes also are encouraging the use of wood now, says Brent Flotkoetter, product director for ZIP Systems at Huber Engineered Wood. “For some time, the code and other programs have tried to reduce the amount of wood in the structure, but now they’re going in the other direction.”

That opens new opportunities but requires a new mindset, notes Weyerhaeuser’s Meyers. “We are watching the multifamily market closely to determine its potential,” he says. “It provides a different market for lumberyards, with different needs, and yards aren’t automatically focused on serving those needs. The lumberyard needs to understand the differences and adapt to those needs.”

Adds Roseburg’s Killgore, “The surge in multifamily construction and interest in wood products has created new challenges for us in the ways we reach our markets. Those projects often use jobbers, who work from offices, so someone has to do the logistics and technical support for them. We have to be creative and work closely with our distributors and yards to fulfill that need to gain more of those projects.”

Rosboro’s Walsh agrees about the potential. “Multifamily construction is only going to increase in the near term,” he says. “There is more of it going on all the time, and developers are realizing significant savings by using glulam beams.”

APA has encouraged “podium” construction, in which a concrete first floor serves as a foundation for higher stories using wood framing. APA offers a publication discussing this approach, which has become popular in California.

Architects are willing, says Killgore. “Designers are getting pretty creative in how they use engineered lumber today. There’s always a contrast between the architect who dreams and the engineers who have to figure out how to make it work. But we’re seeing more interest and talk about 20-story buildings.”

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