IN DEPTH: Lumber and Structural Panels

Fire Code Challenges
Meeting fire codes also has moved to the forefront, due to changes that require fire protection on I-joists installed over basements. “Builders are looking for better fire-code solutions from manufacturers,” says Killgore. “We in turn have to help educate the marketplace and code officials about what provides the best approaches to meet the code requirements. Lumber people are very happy to have this opportunity to readdress the value of their products with builders who have been using I-joists.”

Adds Geoff Berwick, director of risk management at Sherwood Lumber Corp., “Codes are continuing to change and creating a lot of activity in the market. Builders are looking at issues as they arise and trying to determine how best to meet the new needs in a cost-effective way. They don’t have all the answers, but they have a ton of questions. We’re trying to work with them to find the best solutions for their own needs.”

LP Building Products has focused on adding new products, such as a fire-rated OSB and leveraging that technology for use in floor systems, says Brian St. Germain, director of quality and technology for OSB products. “We’re getting a good response to it,” he says. “The code requirements are localized now, but as more states adopt the new code, the use of these products will spread to other states.”

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Premium Products Grow
Builders are finding that higher quality products are worth a premium if they add value. “With OSB, we’re seeing a shift toward premium grades for flooring products,” says LP’s St. Germain. “Customers want it to perform well and they like the no-sand warranty we can offer. There are benefits to the builder in not having to prep the floor and to his customer in a stiffer floor.” Weyerhaeuser’s Hendry agrees. “Interest in presanded panels is growing. Builders like not having to sand because it saves them prep time.”

Presanded products also offer intangible benefits, adds St. Germain. “They have a fully sanded top surface that looks nicer. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but builders often have customers come into the homes early to see progress or discuss issues, and they can see that it looks nice and doesn’t have a rough appearance, even if it will be covered over eventually.”

Builders also are seeing benefits from using thicker panels, typically 7/8-inch for single-family homes, says Tracie Higley, product manager for OSB at Weyerhaeuser. “Columns can be reduced by one-third when using 7/8-inch, which means fewer fasteners, hangers and adhesives, plus fewer holes to drill and less labor overall. Needing fewer columns provides more design flexibility and gives mechanical crews more room to install utilities.” Thicker panels with tongue-and-groove edges also are being used more often in the northeast, she notes, to handle heavier snow loads.

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