As 2018 draws to a close, the American Wood Council (AWC) looks back on what has been a very successful year for wood industry markets. Both federally and in the states, the opportunity for wood products has been greatly expanded, building codes have been very successfully updated to account for new technology and developments, and the impact of unnecessary and burdensome government regulations has been lessened. Within AWC, we celebrate these achievements as well as the addition of a new member, Arauco North America, an engineered wood company headquartered in Atlanta.
Tall Mass Timber
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for the wood products industry as a whole in 2018 was the approval of International Code Council (ICC) code changes that will permit, for the first time in North America, tall mass timber construction as a regular part of the building code. At ICC hearings in October, followed by two weeks of online member voting, the code changes were approved and will appear in the 2021 version of the International Building Code (IBC) to allow three new types of mass timber buildings:
- Type IV-A – Mass timber buildings up to 18 stories tall fully protected by gypsum board.
- Type IV-B – Mass timber buildings up to 12 stories tall partially protected by gypsum board.
- Type IV-C – Mass timber buildings up to 9 stories tall meeting two-hour fire protection.
Requirements for tall mass timber buildings found in other sections of the building code will be considered by ICC in 2019 and AWC will be there representing the industry. The 2021 IBC is expected to be released in late 2020, along with the full set of 2021 I-codes. Find more information about tall mass timber buildings at: awc.org/tallmasstimber.
Federal legislative approvals in 2018 were infrequent at best, but AWC scored a big victory by getting provisions of the Timber Innovation Act included in the just-approved Farm Bill. The bill passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly and recognizes the emergence of mass timber as an important construction method that can change the American skyline with a reduced environmental impact. Language included in the bill will encourage more research and development into mass timber and provide matching grants to stimulate production. AWC also succeeded in having language included in the Farm Bill that directs that wood products be included under the biobased procurement preference program used by federal agencies.
At the same time, AWC enjoyed several wins at the state level, pushing back against attempts by competing building materials seeking legislation that would discriminate against wood in the marketplace. Below is a list of outcomes in the states.
- California – Thwarted several attempts by Build with Strength (BWS) to push legislation that would discriminate against wood building in the City of Los Angeles.
- Georgia – Helped pass a law rescinding, and preventing future, local ordinances that discriminate against wood buildings.
- Maryland – Prevented consideration of four anti-wood bills introduced.
- New Jersey – Over the past three sessions, 16 anti-wood bills have been pushed by BWS, and only one has even passed committee. Ironically, BWS is now opposing that one bill following changes sought by AWC.
- Oregon – Assisted with technical information allowing the state to become the first to permit mass timber high-rises through a statewide alternative recognition.
- Pennsylvania – Prevented attempts by BWS to restrict wood building in the City of Philadelphia.
- South Carolina – Overturned a ban on the use of fire-treated wood in construction in public schools and state buildings.
- Washington – Governor Inslee signed a bill that will accelerate mass timber use in the Washington Building Code, and the State Building Code Commission has given approval to the mass timber provisions passed by ICC.
As we look ahead to 2019, there are several opportunities to pursue and a number of issues that are likely to arise.
- Following ICC approval of tall mass timber, a number of states have indicated a willingness to implement the code changes before release of the full 2021 IBC and have approached AWC for assistance.
- Approval of mass timber creates a huge opportunity, but also a big need to educate and inform building officials and the construction community on how to best design and use this emerging technology.
- On the federal side, there are several legislative issues on the horizon. With passage of the Farm Bill, AWC will turn its attention towards U.S. Forest Service funding for mass timber research programs; push for permanent language establishing the carbon neutrality of biomass; and work with the Environmental Protection Agency to integrate biomass recognition language into agency operations.
- The Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that was signed by the President requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator to define ‘resilience’ and ‘resiliency.’ AWC will work with legislators and the Administration so that these definitions are based on the most up-to-date, consensus-based building codes.
- In continuing to work to expand market opportunities for wood products, AWC sees potential in the federal infrastructure package expected to be pushed by the Administration, notably with bridges and highway sound barriers.
From the Farm Bill and ICC code adoption process, to defeating numerous efforts to restrict wood building by competitors, AWC and the wood products industry closed out 2018 with many major wins. We look forward to continuing this momentum into 2019 and hope it brings even more success for the wood products industry.