In Depth: Lumber and structural panels
Specialty products help dealers and builders solve jobsite, code, and labor challenges.
Wood panels and dimension lumber may seem like everyday items in most lumberyards, but thanks to innovations from manufacturers, they’re anything but boring.
Whether meeting energy codes, saving labor, or resisting moisture, the latest materials give dealers and their builder customers more options than ever to improve the performance of homes while saving time and hassles. Dealers seeking to make the most of these opportunities and be a true resource to customers should brush up on category knowledge and help builders learn about product and assembly options that meet the needs of almost any jobsite.
Responding to market challenges
The stronger housing market has provided a boost for wood panels.
“On the demand side, the housing market is looking good,” says Joe Elling, Market Research Director for APA–The Engineered Wood Association. “With respect to panel production, manufacturers are opening shuttered mills, and we should see a continued growth in production for OSB over the next 18 months. The structural panel market share is running at 80%.”
Manufacturers also report that the robust multifamily market is impacting their products and sales. “The mortgage market has influenced the increase in multifamily projects,” notes Bobby Byrd, Director of OSB Sales and Marketing for RoyOMartin. “This dynamic change is driving new and different products for this unique segment of the housing market. For example, products are exposed to the elements for a much longer time than in traditional singlefamily construction. We, as manufacturers, must develop better installation practices and/or products to meet these challenging requirements.”
One concern for dealers, says Ashlee Cribb, Sales Director for Solid Wood at Roseburg, is “assuming that there will always be an adequate supply of product available. With the growing domestic and world economies, product shortages in these categories could develop.” She recommends establishing a presence and good relations with the various components of the supply chain. “In other words, get in the order file and maintain your place in it.”
Cribb says that Western species log availability is a challenge, especially with weather and fire events last year, and that higher-grade Douglas fir veneers may be less available in the future.
The strong housing market has brought on another labor crisis, with many builders struggling to fill positions with qualified pros. Therefore, products that are easier and faster to install are catching on.
It’s part of a larger movement toward products that do more. Gone are the days when structural OSB and plywood panels were merely a commodity. “Producers are making structural panels that are easier and faster to install, can withstand weather better during construction, and culminate with contractors having fewer callbacks to jobsites,” notes Judy Haney, Plywood Sales Manager for Boise Cascade.
“Builders are looking for products that save time without increasing costs,” agrees Byrd. “As housing starts increase and the available labor shortage continues, building better, faster, and smarter is a trend in structural panels.”
A number of specialty wall panels are fulfilling these needs. For example, RoyOMartin offers solutions such as Eclipse Weather Resistant Barrier to replace traditional housewraps, thereby removing steps. According to the company, Eclipse Weather Resistant Barrier integrates housewrap and reflective insulation into a single structural panel, taking the place of traditional housewrap. The tape-and-panel solution has a 180-day exposure rating and a Class B fire rating, and is available in extended lengths.
Huber Engineered Woods’ ZIP System wall and roof sheathing products have an integrated weather resistive barrier; they install like traditional panels and seal with ZIP System tape.
Similarly, Georgia-Pacific offers ForceField, which also features an integrated air and water barrier to save builders a step. The company recently added ForceField Corner Seal to its lineup, which can be used to flash both inside and outside corners.
LP’s FlameBlock fire-rated OSB sheathing features an ignition-resistant coating and is designed to meet code requirements as a component for firerated interior wall assemblies, exterior wall assemblies, and roof decks. The panels’ structural design values are not diminished by the treatment, so they can have the same load/span and shear design values as untreated structural panels, the company says.
Specialization and labor savings also can be found in new introductions in the subflooring category as well, as OSB manufacturers continue to up their game in the name of moisture resistance. Huber has been in the premium subfloor market for some time with its AdvanTech panel. The subflooring features a higher density and advanced resin technology that help it resist moisture while also making it strong and stiff. It carries a 500-day nosand guarantee.
The company offers an accompanying subfloor adhesive that it says is easier to apply versus traditional cartridges, and at this year’s International Builders’ Show, introduced a long-barrel applicator gun that helps installation move even more quickly.
Recently both Weyerhaeuser and LP launched their own premium subfloor options, with similarly high strength and stiffness ratings.
Weyerhaeuser’s Edge Diamond is designed to be highly resistant to weather and features Down Pore self-draining technology to reduce standing water. Edge Diamond also carries a 500-day no-sand guarantee.
“Given the shortages in labor within the building industry, there is a trend toward products that will either reduce labor on the front end or more often reduce the need for time-consuming callbacks,” says Chris Degnan, Director of OSB Sales and Marketing for Weyerhaeuser. “This is seen in the growing use of enhanced OSB flooring like [Weyerhaeuser’s] Edge Gold and Diamond. Builders are investing a small amount up front to avoid issues later in the building process, and they are seeing value in that strategy.”
LP added to its subflooring lineup last fall with a premium panel called Legacy. The company says the subflooring panel, which contains more resin, wax, and wood fiber and features Gorilla Glue technology, has the highest bending stiffness and is one of the strongest subfloor panels available. The panels’ premium moisture resistance prevents edge swell and allows for a “Covered Until It’s Covered” nosand warranty.
“We knew there was a market there,” says Kayla Boyce, LP’s OSB Product Manager. “The response from our customers has been great.”
“The trend is clear, more and more builders are embracing the benefits of increasing OSB technology,” Degnan says. “New products provide specific value, and builders are responding to that in this ever-tightening labor market.”
Along with overall market trends, increasingly stringent building and energy codes are influencing product development and system installation.
For several years, APA has helped ensure that wood structural panels remain an accepted method for meeting code requirements for energy-efficient wall systems.
“Since taking large jumps in energy efficiency in 2010 and 2013, the residential energy code largely remains at the same high level of efficiency over the last five years,” says Tom Kositsky, Field Services Director for APA. “That being said, builders are still refining how they meet the higher requirements. According to the most recent (2016) Home Innovations Research Labs’ Builder Practices Survey, builders’ use of OSB and plywood wall sheathing remains at historically high levels. Builders reported that wood structural panels accounted for 82% of exterior wall construction, with OSB accounting for 68%, followed by 14% plywood, 8% concrete block/no sheathing, and 5% foam sheathing.”
APA offers several resources to help dealers and builders meet energy code requirements. Late last year, the association published The Performance Path to Energy Code Compliance, a guide for builders looking for costeffective alternatives to meeting code. It also recently updated its Build a Better Home section on its website, a collection of resources for moistureresistant foundations and roofs, and addressing mold and mildew.
Another code issue APA has been active on is the use of wood structural panels as a nail base for siding.
“Recognition of wood structural panels as a nail base for siding and trim was a big win for builders in the 2015 IRC,” notes Byrd. “The code change permits builders to use structural wall sheathing (plywood or OSB) instead of framing members to secure cladding. This is especially important when flexible siding is used, like vinyl, which typically must be fastened more frequently than other types of siding and trim.”
APA’s guide, Nail-Base Sheathing for Siding and Trim Attachment, helps users determine the type and spacing of fasteners to meet code requirements.
Manufacturers and the APA also offer ample guidance for systems and assemblies—how products work together to create more durable, energyefficient, and resilient homes. This is another opportunity for dealers to provide expertise to builders across multiple categories and to sell systems rather than just individual components.
“APA is identifying opportunities for builders with a number of different assemblies and approaches, including tall wood assemblies, radiant barrier roof sheathing, and solutions that address air infiltration,” says Kositzky. “Understanding air infiltration in the code takes some training, but it is a good topic for the building material supplier to understand.”
For example, in its publication IECC Compliance Options for Wood-Frame Wall Assemblies, APA provides design recommendations and wall assembly options for meeting R-20 or R-13+5 wall insulation values required by the energy code while using wood structural panel wall sheathing.
LP offers several assembly recommendations for creating code-compliant fire-rated assemblies. One is U350, designed for creating partition walls without a shaft liner—thereby negating the need for a specialty trade while adding 4″ per square foot back into the living space.
APA also is renovating its testing lab that “will expand [its] research and testing capabilities to support code provisions for taller wood walls and shear wall and diaphragm assemblies,” says Marilyn Thompson, APA’s Market Communications Director. “We’re looking forward to improving our capabilities for dynamic load testing, and testing of new and innovative engineered wood products. It is a significant investment that will deliver long-term results.”
Lumber powers on
On the lumber front, this past year the industry closely watched trade negotiations on Canadian softwood lumber. In a statement issued Nov. 2, 2017, the U.S. Commerce Dept. said, “While significant efforts were made by the United States and Canada, and the respective softwood lumber industries, to reach a long-term settlement to this ongoing trade dispute, the parties were unable to agree upon terms that were mutually acceptable. As a result, the investigations were continued and Commerce reached its final determinations.”
In doing so, the department locked in its combined antidumping and countervailing duties of up to 24%, depending on the manufacturer, according to LBM Journal reports.
Like panels, lumber products also are increasingly available in specialty options that save time and hassles.
Weyerhaeuser’s Framer Series, for example, is performance tested with a computerized grading system to help eliminate culling time and callbacks by ensuring every piece is straight.
Labor woes are impacting dimension lumber use, as well. “One key driver in housing is the lack of skilled labor,” says Gary Fallin, General Manager for Southern Pine Sales at Canfor. “There has been a very large push in using floor and roof trusses verses stick built on side rafters and floor joists. The result to the lumber market is higher demand for narrow lumber (2x4s, 2x6s, and 2x8s).”
Canfor expects demand for softwood lumber to increase since the U.S. housing market is well below the average number of new units being produced.
“Demand for MSR-graded lumber will expand as builders want confidence in the design and performance of the homes they are building,” Fallin says.
Canfor is seeing species substitution, with higher priced SPF being substituted with Southern yellow pine, as well as a higher use of machine stress rated (MSR) lumber. The company has expanded its production of MSR in SYP and SPF to meet the growing demand.
“There is far less species loyalty compared to just 10 years ago,” says Fallin. “Builders/consumers are looking for the best value. Recent trends in drying Southern yellow pine has provided a much more stable product which is easily substituted for species that held traditional markets.”
Also, he notes, “Design value changes, particularly in Southern yellow pine, made for wider lumber to be used for certain spans. The result to the lumber market is more demand for wide dimension (2x10s and 2x12s) also substituting #1 for #2 in some applications.”
Fallin recommends dealers align themselves with lumber producers that focus on shipping on time. A more efficient supply chain allows the dealer to reduce inventory.
To learn more about these companies’ products, visit their websites.
Companies in bold participated in this article.
Belco Forest Products:
Huber Engineered Woods:
Idaho Forest Group:
LP Building Products:
Manufacturers Reserve Supply:
Roseburg Forest Products:
Universal Forest Products:
APA-The Engineered Wood:
Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers
North American Wholesale Lumber
Expand your knowledge
In both categories, successful dealers are those that can be a resource to customers both in overall product knowledge and in applications that can meet codes and save time and money.
“Lumber dealers are the eyes and ears of the industry that serve their customers,” says RoyOMartin’s Byrd. “As the building codes change every three years, so do our products to meet those requirements. It is very important to keep installers up-to-date with new product alternatives and installation techniques that make the installation better, faster, and smarter. For example, why would a savvy representative ship 9′ studs and 8′ OSB wall sheathing to a jobsite? The better, faster alternative is to offer 9′ OSB for installation on 9′ studs.”
Manufacturers and associations like APA offer numerous educational opportunities to help with everything from product knowledge to meeting code requirements to installation best practices.
“I find staying involved and active in the education process is a great way to educate the supply chain,” Byrd adds. “Most distributors and manufacturers are more than willing to participate in training classes or lunch-and-learns, or offer accredited continuing-education credits for builders, engineers, and architects.
“Stay informed. Keep those important ‘boots-on-the-ground’ salespeople educated on the latest information, and offer more efficient building solutions,” Byrd continues. “Not only do they offer a better solution to their customers, a well-informed sales representative is a great asset to the manufacturer as well.”
With the continued introduction of higher-performing specialty products, it’s more important than ever for dealers to provide customers with expertise. “The more knowledgeable [they are] about the products they carry, the more options a dealer will be able to present to their customers,” says Haney. “A lot of suppliers are willing to help with product knowledge learning— including the pros and cons of products and suitable applications.”
Along with Boise’s own resources and those of APA, Haney recommends APA’s Performance Panels website (performancepanels.com), which provides base knowledge of different types of panels; ThinkWood, which highlights innovation in the use of softwood lumber; WoodWorks, from the Wood Products Council; and the American Wood Council, which provides information on codes and standards.
“Our industry has, and will continue to have, its unique challenges,” Byrd says. “Addressing the changes, new products, new technology, and installation techniques head on and getting ahead of them—that’s what makes you an industry leader.”