The future is bright for wood and housing


A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the Forest Economic Advisors’ Forest Products Forum 2016 at the World Forestry Center in Portland. It was a full day of presentations packed with useful and detailed information about forest-products markets, including wood and pulp and paper, in the U.S. and worldwide. If you get the chance to attend in person sometime, I’d recommend it.

Among the compelling bits of info I gathered was a prediction that U.S. housing starts are expected to grow steadily by about 100,000 units each year for the next five years. That bit of good news helps account for another prediction: that U.S demand for lumber will grow by 2 billion board feet over the same time period. But it was tempered a bit by a forecast for declining lumber exports in the same time period.

The most compelling presentations, for me anyway, were about the newest darling of the industry: cross-laminated timber (CLT). During the first presentation on this topic, Forest Economic Advisors’ Art Schmon pointed out that despite all the hype, CLT has yet to have a meaningful impact on the overall consumption of lumber in the U.S.

“Game-changer for the lumber industry?” he said, “Not so much—but it is a game-changer for the construction industry.”

That last statement got me to thinking. Any game-changer for the construction industry is sure to become a game-changer for the wood industry, even if it hasn’t quite gotten there yet. In fact, a single mass timber building in Portland that was completed last May consumed 632,000 board feet of dimension lumber and another 350,000 board feet of glulam. That’s close to a million board feet of lumber for a single building. A thousand more like that, which is not so far-fetched, and you already account for half the expected increase in lumber demand in the coming years.

But the really interesting presentation was the next one. Eric Dean from Legal & General Homes in England told us about a modular housing factory his company has built that will become the largest CLT manufacturer in the world. And CLT isn’t even the company’s end product. It’s affordable modular housing. Lumber goes in the front end of the plant, and modular homes – complete with lighting and plumbing fixtures already installed – come out the back end… to the tune of seven modular homes a day. Now that’s a game-changer. Check it out here.

The 2017 International Mass Timber Conference, which will be held March 28-30 here in Portland, has extended an invitation to Mr. Dean to come back and tell his story again. I hope he does.       


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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