Could Washington lead the way for engineered wood manufacturing?

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Plans for two engineered wood products factories in Eastern Washington could help establish Washington state as the national hub of the tall, wooden building movement.

The Spokesman-Review reports that Menlo Park-based Katerra Inc. and Colville-based Vaagen Timbers will open mass timber factories this spring to meet the growing demand for cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated beams (glulam).

Vaagen Timbers’ 70,000-square-foot factory is expected to employ 45 people by year’s end. Vaagen Timbers has partnered with Vaagen Bros. Lumber to supply the factory with the lumber necessary to produce the engineered wood beams and timber products.

Katerra is scheduled to open a 250,000-square-foot facility in Spokane Valley – less than 15 miles from the region’s first CLT building. The engineered wood products factory will be the largest of its kind in the U.S. and employ 150 people.

Applying engineered wood products in construction has increased in recent years as builders, developers, cities and consumers demand eco-friendlier options. Manufacturing CLT is less carbon intensive than concrete or steel. Wood is a renewable resource that removes carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere and continues to hold carbon even after harvesting. CLT also allows for the use of small and already-dead trees, making tree-thinning a commercially viable enterprise.

CLT also is remarkably strong and fire resistant. Noting that CLT chars at a rate of 1 1/2 inches per hour, Prof. Don Bender, Washington State University’s Weyerhaeuser endowed professor of civil engineering, is quoted in the Spokesman-Review:

By virtue of their size, products used in mass wood construction are fire-resistant. Anybody who has ever tried to start a campfire knows that small pieces burn quickly. But when you put a big log on, it smolders…While the outside of the wood is slowly charring in a fire, the inner part will still retain its strength.

CLT has been used in other parts of the world for more than two decades, but the appeal of CLT and other engineered woods has continued to grow in the US as developers and builders become more familiar with the benefits of this innovative wood product. The News Tribune reports construction of a CLT warehouse in the Nalley Valley. The paper also noted that the Brewery Blocks development, at 14-story mixed-use space that will be the state’s tallest CLT building once completed, will open this summer.

The growing engineered wood industry in Washington state also has the potential to help rural communities like Colville. During the opening day ceremony at Jefferson Elementary in 2017, Gov. Jay Inslee noted that the school was the first public building project constructed with CLT in the state. Said Inslee:

Demand for Washington’s timber industry has been in decline for decades, impacting many of our rural communities. The manufacturing of cross-laminated timber has the potential to strengthen local economies and grow jobs.