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Lawmakers Revive Timber Bill

Friday, March 17, 2017

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A controversial bill meant to bolster research, development and the construction of high-rise wood buildings in the U.S. has been reintroduced.

The Timber Innovation Act, reintroduced Monday (March 13), aims to find “new and innovative uses for wood as a building material.” Specifically, the measure focuses on generating research to lead to the construction of wood buildings over 85 feet in height, according to Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and a co-sponsor of the bill.

timber building
© / HunterBliss

The act would incentivize American colleges and universities to conduct research and development on new methods for construction of tall wood buildings.

King joins Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and others in this latest push to get the legislation passed. The bill was previously introduced in 2016.

A corresponding bill was also recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bill Details, Supporters

King says that recent developments in wood products engineering alongside other new technologies have made it possible to expand the use of wood into construction projects larger than three or four stories. Moreover, cross-laminated timber is “strong and stable” and “sequesters a lot of carbon,” King adds.

The act would incentivize investment in the research and development on new methods for construction of wood buildings, through the National Forest Products Lab and American colleges and universities, King said. Additionally, the bill would support ongoing efforts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further encourage the use of wood products as a building material for tall buildings.

The bill also supports rural manufacturing job growth, supporters say.

“The United States has an opportunity to bring new, sustainable mass timber technology to our construction industry, and the Timber Innovation Act directs technical assistance and research components already in place,” Robert Glowinski, president and CEO of the American Wood Council said in a statement.

Along with the American Wood Council, the American Forest Foundation, Binational Softwood Lumber Council and others have supported the act.

Critics Urge Rejection

Opponents of the measure, including masonry and cement industry organizations, have argued that it is “inappropriate” for the federal government to promoting one building material over others in the construction industry.

© / dkfielding

The government should not be in the business of picking favorites when it comes to building materials, opponents argue.

“This is a blatant attempt by the wood industry to secure a competitive advantage through legislative means,” Portland Cement Association’s Executive Vice President A. Todd Johnston said in a statement.

Johnston and others argue that the government should promote fair competition.

In addition, critics have focused on “serious concerns about the safety of extensive wood use in tall building construction,” noting that wood is classified in model building codes as a “combustible construction material with longstanding limitations on building height and area.”

State Bans

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Maryland and New Jersey have introduced and passed, respectively, bills meant to prohibit construction of multifamily dwellings using wood-frame construction in densely populated areas.

Wood industry players argue that those bills are promoting the interest of specific building materials and “would circumvent the extensive effort architects, engineers and building code officials put into the process to regularly update the national model building codes.”

“In most instances it is the furnishings and contents brought into buildings that cause fires, so targeting wood construction in multi-family buildings is not going to improve occupant or firefighter life safety,” argues AWC Vice President of Codes and Regulations Kenneth Bland.


Tagged categories: Architects; Building materials; concrete; Construction; Contractors; Good Technical Practice; Government; Laws and litigation; Regulations; Research and development; Wood; Wood coatings

Comment from Jesse Melton, (3/17/2017, 4:24 PM)

Carbon sequestration? What? Trees provide carbon sequestration, wood does not. I can't believe that idiot even said that.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/20/2017, 8:58 AM)

Jesse, follow the sequence of events. If the tree falls over and rots, or it's burned for fuel, the vast majority of the carbon is released. If it is put into a building, the carbon should remain sequestered for much longer. Even at demolition, the wood from a building is likely to end up sequestered in a landfill. By expanding the market of wood products likely to be sequestered, you incentivize landowners to grow more trees, which then CAPTURE the carbon to build their internal structure, and are sequestered by the use process.

Comment from Robert Bullard, (3/21/2017, 9:09 AM)

First things first - Sustainable, robust and diversified forests in which the highest quality of any potential structural species will grow and can be harvested without creating an environmentally degraded moonscape for generations. In 1980 I took off most of a summer to tour Western wood operations from AK (Chugach and Tongass), down through BC into the US Pac NW and into the SW. What I saw stopped me from specifying any western wood for my projects when, at the time, from Louisiana to Virginia the various structural pines were largely self-sustaining. Now southern wood has been pushed to the limit. And all species are being exported at an increasing rate. We need more and taller buildings for all uses, but building them throughout the land with the primary structure being wood is a bad idea...all the way from the forest to the termite.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (3/21/2017, 3:57 PM)

Tom, that's not how carbon sequestration works, or any other type of gaseous sequestration. You're talking about gaseous entrapment/storage.

Sequestration is an active transport process. Gasses are captured in one environment then transported to another where they either break down, are dispersed or converted into another substance (sometimes all three). In gaseous sequestration the tree is little more than an intake. A small portion of the gas is utilized directly in the tree, but any excess is transported into the ground. Since trees have been around a lot longer than people it should be understood that the actual tree needs very little CO2. Everything beyond that is sent on through the sequestration process.

When a tree is felled it's like turning a gardening water hose off. There's some water left between the hose bib and the nozzle. In a tree you get CO2 (and stuff) that's trapped in transport. The CO2 is trapped/stored, a passive state.

Considering the audience of this site this is very relevant, does anyone know the first step in the post treatment step in the process of making fire retardant treated lumber (FRT)? Nobody?

The treated wood is kiln dried which removes any of the unbound CO2 still in the wood after the process vessel evacuation at the start of the impregnation process.

The carbon that's released if the wood is ever charred is the lifecycle carbon the tree needed to live. Any of the unbound carbon the that was in the tree at the time of felling is gone. Right back to where it came from.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/22/2017, 8:47 AM)

Jesse, I don't know where you're getting this - but both the experts and basic physics disagree with you. Trees cannot trap any significant volume of CO2 without actually turning it into wood or other structures (leaves, etc.) While it varies by substance, you can roughly approximate the volume change from solid (or liquid) to gas at 1:1000. If you have a cubic foot of solid, it becomes 1,000 cubic feet of gas (again, approximate, varies by substance) "Wood and other products made from trees still contain the carbon absorbed by the plants that they came from. When a tree is utilized for wood, its ability to sequester carbon is extended, and the carbon is not released until the product burns or decomposes." And I agree with Robert - sustainable forest management is critical.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (3/23/2017, 8:34 AM)

The Forest Service left out part of the process. The part where the lumber becomes an engineering material. What carbon is captured by the tree and not transferred to the soil does stay in the tree until is burns, decomposes or subjected to heat sufficient to evacuate water or other processes which replace the naturally present water with something else.

The VPI process works because the vacuum stage of the process evacuates unbound materials from the wood. The now unoccupied space is filled with ammonia borne treatment solutions to retard decomposition and insect damage.

The remaining unbound carbon will happily hang out indefinitely, but you can't build anything with the wood. It's now wetter than it was when it was still a tree. The remaining carbon is just "rattling around in there" (for illustrative purposes). If you ricked up the green lumber and air dried it in 3-5 years the construction grade lumber would retain a lot of the unbound carbon inside it. Not all, but a lot of it.

However, in commercial operations air drying takes too long. Instead they put the wood into kilns. Under a microscope you can see the way cells in the tree deform under rapid drying. As the moisture leaves the wood it's also carrying unbound carbon. Faster actually because the carbon is partially supported in the suspension by the kiln heat. As the excess treatment solution is sweated out after the wood has been made into a deck it continues to bring unbound carbon to the surface. Once the deck gets sealed that process is stopped. Until the sealer begins to break down. In a deck the upward facing wood becomes the only escape for water from rain and such. Because the bottom and sides are still sealed the water and unbound carbon evacuation begins again.

It's really stretching the truth to say lumber retains here amounts of carbon. That's not an opinion, that's materials 101. Unbound molecules are displaced by anything else crammed into the material. Unless it's a thermoplastic it only happens faster with the application of heat.

Comment from Thomas Greene, (3/24/2017, 10:46 AM)

Jesse, perhaps if you consider what you might call the “bound” carbon?

Comment from Adam Carter, (3/24/2017, 7:24 PM)

I have to say that I do not follow the argument here either... 'carbon sequestration' to me would involve all forms of carbon containing material, not just specifically the carbon dioxide contained in the tree at the time it was felled. I would not imagine that the carbon dioxide content of a tree would be even relatively close to the percentage of the total carbon content from the cellulosic portion of the wood. The fact that a tree exists is proof that carbon dioxide was removed from the air and fixed into a solid cellulosic form by the tree as it grew. I believe dry lumber is somewhere ~50% carbon by mass, correct me if I am wrong. More trees = more carbon dioxide removed from the air --> More long trerm uses for wood products (harvested sustainably) = carbon kept out of the air for longer. Obviously trees cease removing carbon dioxide from the air when they are cut down, so I'm not advocating for cutting down all the trees to save all the carbon... there's a limit, lol Jesse, what process are you referring to with trees relaying carbon dioxide into the ground at a much higher rate than using it in growth and life processes? Maybe this is the link we are missing? Composting from fallen leaves? Or just gaseous transport? Acidification of underlying water?

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