In Oregon, mass timber grows as construction embraces trees

As the U.S. industry continues to grow, it will face new challenges and opportunities.

In Oregon, mass timber grows as construction embraces trees

The International Mass Timber Conference attracted thousands of people to the Oregon Convention Center late in March. The seventh annual gathering was held in Portland with over 100 exhibitors and dozens speakers to discuss trees.

The United States could see a new era in this industry. According to a Beck Group market analysis, Europe began using CLT in the 1990s. The first commercial project in America was completed in 2011. The Beck Group's market analysis revealed that mass timber was cheaper and faster to construct. The Beck Group conducted the 2018 analysis on behalf of a group foresters.

Dean Lewis, the national director of prefabrication and mass timber at Skanska USA Building in Portland, spoke to the Business Journal on the promise mass timber holds for the future. This interview was edited to ensure clarity and brevity.

Are you aware of any statistics or numbers regarding the market share for mass timber? In 2012, I can remember that you could count on one hand the number of mass-timber projects in the U.S. WoodWorks has published a very interesting statistic. You can visit their website to see the exact hyperbolic growth.

My dad and grandfather raised me both in construction. It's a very conservative industry and to have come so far in just 10 years by trying something new is amazing.

Inertia is a problem in many industries, including the construction industry. I can imagine that mass timber is facing challenges. What are these challenges, and how have you overcome them? What I love about mass wood as an industry, is that we are always able to overcome any challenges. Everyone has heard about Peavy Hall and delamination. Editor's Note: In March 2018, the flooring in Oregon State University's Peavy Hall buckled, and a large portion of it fell onto the floor below. Engineers determined that glue problems were to blame, as reported by the Oregonian. We had to hold emergency meetings after the incident to ensure that it never happened again.

There are always challenges we have to overcome. One of the biggest challenges we face right now, I believe, is insurance. This is also related to the fact that I believe we are at a tipping point for mass timber.

Are they charging high rates or are they not insuring the buildings? High rates. Like anything in construction, people who don't understand it or have no knowledge of it will charge a higher rate. The insurance industry is no different. I don't point the finger at anyone. I can understand their point of view. There just needs to more coordination between the two sides. There are projects in Europe that have been around for over 25 years .... This has been done a long time.

What changes in demand for mass timber construction do you see as you travel across the nation? The West Coast was definitely in the lead and at the front of the pack, but I'd say that the East Coast is now catching up. It's because we are in the heart of the timber-growing region in the Northwest.

There is less in the middle of the country, but there's still some.