Norway Spruce 101

By / 8 months ago

COMMENTARY

In October 2016, Norway Spruce was approved by the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) for construction use (home construction applications like wall studs, floor and ceiling joists, and industrial applications) and will join the existing SPFs (spruce-pine-fir south) species grouping for design values.

The process launched in 2012 when Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (NELMA) member mills began to notice sizable, maturing Norway Spruce plantations within the region and asked whether Norway Spruce was approved for construction use. The quick answer was no. Strength tests on this softwood species native to Europe had never been conducted on logs grown in the U.S. After four years of discussing, researching, locating, verifying, planning, sampling, testing, and analyzing, the project is complete. Upwards of 1,000 man hours of NELMA staff time has been spent on this momentous effort.

Grade-wise, an estimated 65% is expected to be graded at #2 and above, making it a strong, high-quality addition to SPFs. Once Norway Spruce is cut into dimension lumber, it is virtually indistinguishable from native eastern spruce species. Our goal is for Norway Spruce to simply disappear as a singular species name. In mills and dealer yards, it becomes simply part of the SPFs-stamped lumber group.

Is it safe and strong? Yes! Norway Spruce strength value testing was completed in partnership with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center. From October 2015 to February 2016, 1,320 full-size pieces of 2x4s, 2x6s and 2x8s were tested. While the vast majority of Norway Spruce is located throughout New York state, the species can be found in Maine, in New England, and as far west as Wisconsin. Testing samples were pulled from all areas.

A Closer Look

The approval of Norway Spruce marks the first new, major, U.S.-grown, softwood species to be fully tested for strength values since the initial process for assigning design values by way of lumber testing of wood samples began in the 1920s. Truly, once in a lifetime.

In the forest, Norway Spruce is easily recognizable by its large, dramatic, drooping “branchlets.” The species naturally delimbs itself almost to the top of the tree when grown in a plantation setting.

It has very distinctive and visually pleasing characteristics when grown in Christmas tree farms or in general landscaping applications, which is why it’s the most oftenchosen species for the grand and glorious Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The 2016 94′ Norway Spruce Rock Center tree hailed from Oneonta, New York. The 2016 69′ Chicago Christmas tree that graced Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue was a Norway Spruce from Wauconda, Illinois.

How Did It Get Here?

A 1936 Harvard University study on Norway Spruce recorded evidence of the first Norway Spruce plantings at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1860 by immigrants who brought stock from Europe. Fast-forward to the 1930s, when FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with planting Norway Spruce across the northeast on abandoned agricultural properties for soil stabilization. More than 113 million seedlings were provided by state nurseries for this government project.

Will we ever run out of Norway Spruce? Not in this lifetime, or that of our children, or even their children. Wood is a naturally renewable resource: it’s not finite, it’s not disappearing. Fact is, there are more forests in the U.S. today than when Thomas Jefferson drank tea at Monticello. New York state alone holds enough Norway Spruce for 90 years of harvesting at their current rate. Of course, more will be planted as the current crop is harvested, ensuring healthy forests and healthy forest industries for centuries to come.

As lumber dealers, what can you expect from the Norway Spruce addition to SPFs? Exact numbers of economic impact are still being developed, and will, of course, vary from region to region. But more wood equals more readily available inventory of a locally grown, strong, reliable, renewable building product.

Bottom Line

While you won’t be able to distinguish Norway Spruce from its SPFs partners when it arrives in the lumberyard, rest assured knowing that the NELMA stamp ensures a strong product.

The past four years have been exciting as we at NELMA have shepherded the species through the strenuous approval process, with the ultimate goal of bringing it into the retail mainstream.

Visit www.nelma.org/norwayspruce and share if you’ve seen a difference since Norway Spruce was introduced. Let us hear from you. We’d love your thoughts!

Jeff Easterling

Jeff Easterling is president of the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (NELMA). Easterling, who holds BS degrees in Wood Science & Technology and Business Administration – Marketing from Mississippi State University, has been president of NELMA since 2001.