This is a very big topic.
Most believe, and has been said in this forum, that the most pressing issues are: 1)Education, 2) high costs, and 3) supply chains. This is correct, but there are other large ones as well. First, I’ll respond to these three items.
There is good news for these challenges:
- there is a lot of Education already available, I’ve tried to provide a hub of links on my website: Mass Timber Products – Mass Timber Map
If you click on the products, they will take you to different sources of information so that you can get an overview of all the products available. For some reason, all the other websites do not have a complete list of all the products available. The map shows which products are sourced were and the company info to get in touch with them. They all have information on their websites. A lot of these sites I shared links with, have all sorts of other information on them. There are a number of associations and organizations, like Woodworks in the USA and Canada. Of course, you can search online through a search engine and you will see a lot of information out there. Also, other professionals with experience can help you, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Costs can be reduced, but you need experienced people to help you with this. Speak to Consultants, Contractors and Manufacturers, as well as the folks at associations and organizations that offer their services, I’ll provide you with more information about how to find these people below, but of course, you can use my map website to provide you with a lot of these contacts. A common problem is using more expensive systems than others. So this is important, think about these projects not as one or two products coming together, but as a whole system down to the nut and blot, plate and screw, etc. A Mass Timber Structural Engineer is your best friend when it comes to this. There are several other things you can do for cost savings, but as mentioned, speak to people in the industry, and they will provide you with assistance.
- Supply chains are going to get better, and more products coming online. More manufacturing facilities are coming on board, and most of the companies that are producing Mass Timber products, are not at full efficiency. Efficiency is not capacity; that’s an important difference. Some companies still have additional capacity that they can bring online, like an extra factory shift. So I encourage you to speak to a number of different manufacturers, and they’ll tell you. Also, see point #4 below.
Regarding new facilities coming online, I will save that for another post at a later time.
Other Challenges with some good news:
Point 4a) Project support. There is complete project support from Wood Works in the USA. Free Project Assistance for Commercial Wood Buildings - WoodWorks | Wood Products Council
4b) Canada also has a Woodworks organization, https://wood-works.ca/ It doesn’t give the complete services that the one in the USA does, but they definitely can help. The education series on this website is also quite good.
Other challenges, with some or more good news needed:
5) Architects can be gatekeepers to any structural system as they are typically the project’s prime consultants. If they don’t have experience in Mass timber, they can be afraid to propose it to clients for several reasons, the first being that the first few projects have a steep learning curve. A client may ask, “if Mass Timber is the right solution for my project, why would I not hire an Architect with Mass Timber Experience?” That’s a very good question, and the worst fear for anyone, including Architects, is to lose clients. So there is the potential of happening, and then there is the fact that Architecture is fee-based consulting, meaning that there is the potential, and this routinely this happens, you will be less profitable for the first few projects. Anyone being paid fees for consulting will have challenges competing against others when they have to invest a lot of time in research and specifications and all other nuances with Mass timber. They have to train staff, they have to Model differently, design differently, detail differently, etc. It’s not likely a client will let you charge them fee’s to train your staff to learn something new, especially when this is hundreds or hours, if not thousands. There are several things to help with this issue, but this would take some time to explain, reach out to me if you’d like to find out more.
6) Quality control, some products crack (check) typically from shrinking or swelling. Some of this can be mitigated with weather protection during construction. Other products crack or change because of the moisture content in the air of the building environment, versus the manufacturing plant. There can be other quality control issues with the use of less desirable species or grades of lam stock. This can be mitigated by specifying products and considering where they will be seen, or possibly not seen. The panels could be buried in Drywall / GWB, or they could be in an exposed ceiling 30’ above where people are, not easily seen for quality, or they can be on exposed walls or lower ceilings where the visual quality really matters.
7) Getting Insurance for Mass Timber projects, although this is improving. The Wood Works Organization in the USA has created a directory called Woodworks innovation network; currently has just one (1) Insurance brokers company: Woodworks Innovation Network
For Canada, reach out to Wood Works in the province you are building in.
I could go on, but I think this is long enough. I’ve been meaning to put together a report/document and make it available to the public, so I should do that. I’ve been working hard on providing solutions, so I’m not spending a lot of time still looking for more issues and articulating them. But it’s helpful to list them, hopefully, what I provided here is of some assistance.
The industry will continue to grow stronger and smarter, we’ll get over the challenges soon enough, and then more challenges will come, and we’ll get over those. The future is very positive in the Mass Timber world.