Lumber Strength Issues—Could there be an Impact on Forest Landowners?
How the Lumber Grading System Works
The American Lumber Standard Committee Inc. (ALSC) is a non-profit organization composed of manufacturers and consumers of lumber. It administers an accreditation program for grade-marking of lumber produced under the American Lumber Standard or ALS system. The ALS is the basis for the sale and purchase of virtually all softwood lumber traded in North America. It also provides the basis for acceptance of lumber and design values by the US building codes.
The ALSC lumber program currently has 31 accredited independent third-party agencies headquartered throughout the United States and Canada. Each of these 31 agencies operates under grading rules certified by the ALSC Board of Review as conforming to the American Softwood Lumber Standard PS 20.
Changes on the Horizon
On October 7, 2011, an ALSC grading agency, the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau, announced their submittal of new design values for visually graded Southern Pine lumber. The last major change for dimension lumber occurred in 1991.
Since 1994, SPIB has conducted an annual resource-monitoring program in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). Although the level of strength changes established to trigger additional testing have never been reached, overall trends in the annual test data suggested a possible shift in the timber base. These trends, along with anecdotal external information, prompted SPIB to conduct a more intensive program of testing beginning in the fall of 2010.
SPIB presented its findings to ALSC on October 20, 2011. Following that review, the ALSC Board of Review announced a second hearing on January 5, 2012. This will afford all interested parties an opportunity to comment on the SPIB submission.
At The Heart of the Issue
At issue are "design values”—the Southern Pine strength properties that designers and builders rely on. Among those design values are the wood's load values—its ability to resist bending, tension, and compression, as well as the product's general stiffness. SPIB’s submittal included proposed new design values that are as much as 20% to 35% lower in four of seven current values.
The proposed changes would not affect every piece of Southern Pine lumber. The changes pertain to visually graded lumber only vs. lumber graded by machine (MSR lumber). In addition, Southern Pine used for decking, laminated beams, poles and timbers would not be altered. Speculation is that the reductions result from mill stumpage derived from fast-grown plantation pine that contain more juvenile wood.
Response From End Users
The proposal to reduce some design values for Southern pine by as much as a third has created concern on the part of some lumber end-users. Criticisms have been launched by some end-user groups such as the National Lumber and Building Materials Dealers Association and the Structural Building Components Association. There are others who believe the real impact will be minimal.
What’s This Mean for Me?
The issue is still evolving and conclusions cannot be drawn at this point. However, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow up with a more in depth article in Forest Landowner Magazine if merited. For comprehensive information, see www.southernpine.com.
Southern Pine Lumber Shipments on the Uptrend
According to the Southern Forest Products Association, preliminary Southern Pine Lumber shipments in August totaled 1.057 billion board feet. The seasonally adjusted annual rate for August shipments is 12.131 billion board feet. If this run-rate continues, 2011 calendar year shipments will be 2 percent lower than 2010, but 3 percent above the 2009 trough.
Because of Canada's offshore exports to China and US west coast log exports, the US South has majority share of total US lumber shipments for the first time in modern history. The US South will capture about 38 percent of the estimated US softwood lumber demand for 2011 of around 32 billion board feet.