Lawmakers Revive Timber Bill

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2017

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.

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

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