Mass Timber Series Week 1: Challenges of Wide Adoption of Mass Timber

What are the biggest challenges to the widespread adoption of Mass Timber in the United States?


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The Mass Timber industry has many challenges, from educating designers, engineers and the construction industry to reducing costs, improving supply chains, and general awareness of mass timber. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the industry and how can we overcome them?

Participate in the discussion alongside industry experts @Aitor_Arteta @KayCee_Hallstrom @tim_hanson @David_Stallcop @Bella_Carmelita_Carr !

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It is my personal opinion that Education is the largest challenge to overcome so that we can see widespread adoption of Mass Timber in the United States no matter which part of the supply chain you are in including designers, engineers, manufacturers, fabricators and assemblers. We need to have more webinars on Mass Timber that target each of these necessary functions in the supply chain with experts in each level helping teach other companies about the mistakes and pitfalls they have experienced as they have navigated various projects over the years so that the newer companies in different parts of the US don’t make the same mistakes. Sandra Lupien and the Michigan State University’s Mass Timber department so far are the most proactive at bringing education to each of these levels in the supply chain. We need more Universities and Colleges across the country putting focus on education and promotion of Mass Timber. We also need to see more trade schools partnering with fabricators and assemblers so that new employees entering the work force have a broader education and background in Mass Timber. Mass Timber

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Education is a big challenge, but I am glad to hear that this is one where Pakira might be able to help!

For starters, what are the major functions in the Mass Timber supply chain? When you say “experts at each level” are you saying that each function has many levels or that each function is its own level?

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From my perspective, education is also the largest challenge, especially amongst architects and engineers. It starts, of course, at the school level-- a lot of Mass Timber projects are still research based or considered experimental, niche and novel. Many generations of practicing architects are not as familiar with the specific construction techniques of systems like CLT, so even though structural engineering professors promote it, maybe there’s somewhat of a perception that’s it’s too technical somehow, without as much design freedom? So, in terms of education, there’s a lot of interest from students and younger generations (mainly because of the Climate Crisis and sustainability concerns), but currently practicing architects also need to have access to more education on these types of materials.

The other big challenge is convincing designers and contractors that Mass Timber is a viable option for a variety of projects and building types. How can Mass Timber become more affordable? Or is it just about teaching the longer term value over the short term value of the structure? It needs to be marketed as an everyday solution to housing, an easy option for commercial, office space, cultural institutions, and even a cost-effective yet innovative opportunity for building schools or college campuses. There are so many possibilities where Mass Timber could easily replace large concrete and steel structures.

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@Bella_Carmelita_Carr I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Besides educating and raising awareness among the supply chain players of the LBM industry, we also need to educate and raise awareness amont consumers, like the institutions you mention here. When they demand their buildings to be of MassTimber, the rest of the supply chain will pay attention, and this will drive adoption.

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@ARNIE_DIDIER @Dusan_Milutinovic @Oleg_Semenov @Steve_Marshall @Ben_Jordan @KayCee_Hallstrom @Jerry_Truex @Jerry_Truex @Aitor_Arteta @Josh_Trayner

What do you think are the biggest challenges to the widespread adoption of Mass Timber in the United States?

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From a laymen’s perspective I think that public perception of the terminology may be an issue also. “Mass Timber” doesn’t scream “sustainability” to the average person with little-to-no knowledge on the lumber industry. Those in the industry however, are well aware of the benefits of mass timber construction and the positive environmental impacts/carbon storing potential of using these building materials!

I support the idea that education is key regarding mass timber construction and it’s acceptance as a mainstream building practice. Educating people on the environmental benefits of mass timber will no doubt encourage people to gravitate towards this kind of construction!

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@David_Stallcop very well said. Just adding my point I had posted above in response to @Bella_Carmelita_Carr 's post: all these supply chain players need to feel a pull from the consumer – which are the institutions @Bella_Carmelita_Carr listed including “commercial, office space, cultural institutions, and even a cost-effective yet innovative opportunity for building schools or college campuses”. This pull will economically incentivize the supply chain to react: get educated, bring more technical skills, equipment, etc. to expand their offerings to include Mass Timber. Incentives tend to be economical, right @Ben_Jordan ?

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Great point @Ben_Jordan! I myself, not along ago, had to educate myself on the concept, environmental benefits, and different types of Mass Timber. Both @Andrew_Gibson and I spent a lot of time understanding the status quo, the current state of innovation, and level of adoption. We at Pakira are the outmost supporters of this direction. To your point, “Mass Timber” does not evoke “environmental” or “sustainable” feel that renewable energy does, or electric cars for instance. So a branding consideration may be another direction to help its widespread adoption.

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I love your creative thinking here. Does Mass Timber have a branding problem?

I agree that the “average person with little-to-no knowledge of the lumber industry” has any idea about the sustainable potential of Mass Timber. Further, many sustainability experts have no idea about Mass Timber and its carbon-sequestering capabilities. I wonder if this is partially due to the name itself… can anyone think of a better name?

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For any new product, Ambassadors are needed. In Mass Timber case - architects and designers. Education+Portfolio case studies (websites, social media). Simple and visual infographics. Clear texts and pictures for architects - it will be easier for the customer to explain.

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Why don’t we conduct an experiment? Tony Lambert has a construction and flooring business, Bobby has the same.

We hook them up with the best quality for the lowest price, and see what does better and where it does? I’ll fire up my old crew of need be

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@Oleg_Semenov this is an excellent point! Ambassadors are usually employed by a company or organization. In this case, you are proposing to spin out Ambassadors and a social media marketing campaign on behalf of a novel class of products, under the Mass Timber umbrella. To execute on your idea, we’d have to have an organization in place whose mission is Mass Timber education and promotion.

Next obvious question – should this be a non-profit? Lobbying arm of the LBM industry? How will it be funded? Annual dues of Mass Timber producers? What are your thoughts on this @David_Stallcop @Ben_Jordan @ARNIE_DIDIER and others?

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@Burford_Bolander this is a brilliant suggestion! Why don’t you tap some of the people on this thread, who are well connected in Mass Timber via the conference @David_Stallcop just posted about this week, and start the discussions? Are Tony Lambert and Bobby on Pakira?

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Ambassadorship is a tricky subject. I find most potential influencers are looking for compensation for their efforts when advocating for new product in the marketplace. I agree with your sentiment Nadia - who pays for it? Can anyone provide me more insight on what an ambassadorship would look like in this context?

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@Nic_Wilson What do you think are the biggest challenges to the widespread adoption of Mass Timber in the United States?

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Not yet but will be. @Nadia

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Awesome @Burford_Bolander – you know they will get a warm welcome when they join! :grinning:

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How can each profession contribute to creating a new culture around Mass Timber?

@Burford_Bolander @Ben_Jordan @Oleg_Semenov @David_Stallcop @Aitor_Arteta @tim_hanson @ARNIE_DIDIER @Dusan_Milutinovic @Steve_Marshall @KayCee_Hallstrom @Jerry_Truex @Josh_Trayner

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Interesting article here regarding the challenges of Mass Timber. What do you think?

This article says the Mass Timber building is cheaper, faster, and reduced emissions. While the buildings themselves are more energy-efficient and sequester carbon. Is it true that steel and concrete outperform Mass Timber in durability, seismic performance, and fire resistance?

Challenges and Opportunities

Mass timber is lighter weight than steel and concrete but it rivals or exceeds these traditional building materials in durability, seismic performance, and fire resistance. Because they are prefabricated, the use of mass timber panels can bring significant cost savings for construction projects and reduce construction time by up to 25%. Mass timber is also less sensitive to temperature changes, making structures more energy efficient.

While the structural benefits of mass timber are well understood, its carbon impacts are more complex. Substituting mass timber for concrete and steel produced with traditional manufacturing processes reduces emissions from construction by 25-40%. Using mass timber for 90% of new urban buildings could prevent nearly 8bn tons of CO2 emissions by 2050, equivalent to a 4% annual reduction in global emissions from manufacturing and construction as a whole.

However, assessments of the emissions benefits of mass timber do not include the effects of increased timber demand on forest land use and management, both of which affect mass timber’s overall value for climate mitigation. Depending on how much mass timber demand raises timber prices, it may increase net land-use emissions by accelerating harvests in natural forests or enhance carbon sequestration by promoting investment in more intensive forest management. Ongoing research is exploring the net forest carbon impacts from different mass timber demand scenarios.

One potential way to improve forest carbon impacts is to develop mass timber production facilities that can handle small-diameter, lower-grade logs from thinning operations that promote health in overstocked forests that are vulnerable to fire or disease. Changes to production technologies and building codes may be necessary, however, to facilitate a shift in inputs from the high-grade industrial lumber that currently supplies nearly all mass timber manufacturers.

Isn’t Vaagen Timbers already making Mass Timber from small diameter logs? Could we pull someone like them into the discussion?

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