IN DEPTH: Lumber and Structural Panels
Innovation Abounds Among OSB, Plywood, and Lumber
Though often seen as commodity products, the categories of wood structural panels (OSB and plywood) and lumber are not short on innovation—and they’re categories where educated dealers can truly serve their customers.
Manufacturers continue to unveil improvements on these wood staples, along with offering fresh ways to keep pros informed on best practices, design, and application.
Plywood or OSB?
Though trade articles often wage an either/or scenario with plywood and OSB, both can be used in similar residential applications.
OSB holds the majority share of the structural panels market for residential construction, in part due to its lower price point. But plywood’s premium finish and advantage on the moisture front give it a stronghold in markets that have always used it and always will.
Plywood manufacturers are increasingly supplying panels for industrial applications such as concrete forming, for doors and windows, furniture manufacturing, and more.
“What we would recommend is that dealers talk with their customers,” says Judy Haney, plywood sales manager for Boise. “Find out what their customers want, what they need, and why. They may be surprised that builder preference changes over time, partly related to what they’re building, where they’re building, where they have to transport it, market pricing, and other factors. There are many considerations, and the more a dealer understands what a customer wants and needs in a structural panel the better prepared they’ll be to fill those needs.”
It’s not about plywood versus OSB, Haney explains, but promoting the advantages of wood structural panels overall. “We’re all in the wood structural panel business. The more panels used across the country instead of competing products, the better. A wood structural panel in and of itself is a better choice than competing options.”
A continued uptick in housing activity could bode well for OSB sales, while plywood’s use in concrete forming could see a boost if the new presidential administration’s promises of increased infrastructure investment come to fruition.
That same trend, however, could further exacerbate the labor crunch. “Conditions in the construction labor market are only going to get more challenging if Trump is able to implement an infrastructure investment program,” notes Joe Elling, director of market research for APA – The Engineered Wood Association. “That’s going to raise labor demand even more.
Construction companies and home builders are going to be competing more heavily for skilled labor. We’re seeing it today, and it’s only going to get worse over the next two to three years, as we anticipate continued modest gains in home construction and repair and remodeling activity.”
“I think we’re going to see more demand than ever for help with education and training,” adds Marilyn Thompson, APA’s market communications director, “and the dealers who can make good use of some of these new educational tools will do well.”
Indeed, dealers easing the labor burden on builders, whether through education or through an installed sales program, stand to benefit if the labor shortage continues.
|Boise Cascade’s Sturd-I-Floor plywood subflooring is available in Western fir and Southern pine species. It features a tongue-and-groove for faster installation and carries an Exposure 1 classification, which means it will resist the effects of moisture as may occur during normal construction delays.|
Beyond the Panel
Whether plywood or OSB, the seemingly simple wood panel is anything but. Manufacturers continue to unveil new innovations for both floor and wall sheathing that reduce moisture absorption, increase efficiencies, and enhance functionality.
“Panel manufacturers are moving toward adding value to their product lines,” says Bobby Byrd, director of OSB sales for RoyOMartin. “This is true for both OSB and plywood. We’ve seen increases in the use of extended-length OSB panels, for example, which is a win-win-win situation for the builder, dealer, and manufacturer.” Extended lengths save framers time and provide for a more structurally sound, valuable assembly, the company says. Other manufacturers, including LP and Norbord, also offer long-length panels.