Building code and other government officials have a chance to positively influence the national building code process to make it easier to use advanced wood products, but they’ll have to act quickly.
Most readers have probably heard about cross-laminated timber (CLT) and the push to see more buildings constructed using CLT and other advanced wood products. More than two dozen such buildings have gone up or are currently planned or under construction here, making Oregon the national epicenter for these innovative structures.
A big reason for the upsurge in timber construction here is that, compared to the alternatives, wood buildings are vastly superior from an environmental-impact standpoint. The wood products used to construct these buildings store carbon – lots of it. About 50 percent of the dry weight of wood is carbon, sequestered from the atmosphere as CO2, a common greenhouse gas. That carbon remains stored in wood for as long as that wood remains part of a building, and even longer if the wood can be salvaged and reused after a building is demolished.
Another environmental advantage is that wood takes less energy to produce than either steel or concrete. Wood products are also the only common building material derived from a renewable resource – trees. And here in Oregon, thanks to sustainable forest practices and strong forest laws, we can rest assured the timber used for our locally made wood products was harvested responsibly.
The wood products industry is a cornerstone of Oregon’s economy, particularly in rural areas, where economic development opportunities typically aren’t as diverse as they are in urban areas.
Why Oregonians should care
Recognizing that advanced wood products carry compelling benefits both environmentally and economically, Oregon has been investing significantly in supporting development of an advanced wood products manufacturing industry here, and those efforts are paying off. Today, D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, located in Riddle, is one of just two U.S. CLT manufacturing facilities currently producing CLT panels certified for structural use. Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons flipped the switch late last year on its new mass plywood panel (MPP) plant, producing another innovative advanced wood product.
Both family-owned companies received product research and development assistance from Oregon State University, one of the nation’s top wood science and engineering programs. OSU recently collaborated with the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture to establish the TallWood Design Institute, the nation’s only research collaborative that focuses exclusively on the advancement of structural wood products.
We are now approaching a critical juncture in the advancement of these efforts. Proposed amendments to the International Building Code will be voted on this year by eligible members of the International Code Council. The vote represents the culmination of a three-year process that could significantly increase the potential market for these advanced wood products. Increased market share driven by building code changes is likely to spur increased industry investment in manufacturing facilities – and that’s the payoff the state has been hoping for in its efforts.
How can you participate?
Most jurisdictions in the U.S. use the International Building Code (IBC) as the basis for their own local building codes. The International Code Council (ICC) is the body that establishes the IBC. In 2016 the ICC appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings to develop code amendment proposals that would expand the ways advanced wood products can be used in commercial construction. The 17-member Ad Hoc Committee is composed of building officials, fire officials, engineers, architects and building-material interests. They have proposed 19 code changes for the 2021 edition of the code that would collectively allow for the use of wood structures in a much broader array of building types, including construction of tall wood buildings up to 18 stories or 270 feet in height. Most of the large wood buildings we’ve seen going up around Oregon have been permitted through an arduous and expensive “alternative methods” process, which many developers are unwilling to attempt. These code changes would clear a path to avoid that alternative process.
The Ad Hoc Committee’s proposals were submitted to the ICC in January, and will be made available for public viewing online on Feb. 28. This will kick off a months-long process that culminates in a national vote in November 2018 to approve or disapprove the proposals.
Eligible voters are public officials or employees of qualified government agencies. The ICC defines these as “governmental units, departments or agencies engaged in the administration, formulation, implementation or enforcement of laws, ordinances, rules or regulations relating to the public health, safety and welfare.”
That definition covers a fairly broad range of government entities, including housing bureaus, departments of energy, and many others in addition to building codes departments and fire bureaus. Each one of those “units, departments or agencies” is entitled to the number of voters corresponding to the population they serve:
0 – 50,000 = 4 voters
50,001- 150,000 = 8 voters
Over 150,000 = 12 voters
Voter turnouts in recent ICC elections have been very low, giving Oregon the chance to make a huge impact. In the 2016 election, for instance, only 1,247 voters participated.
In Oregon there are about 125 building code jurisdictions, each of which is entitled to a minimum of four voters. Several of those jurisdictions are allotted eight voters, and a few have 12 voters. Every state agency that meets the definition of a qualified government agency is allowed 12 voters. If all the eligible agencies were to participate at close to maximum potential, Oregon could easily produce a thousand or more votes.
A vote for wood is a vote for Oregon
Those votes could make a big difference for Oregon, and it is clearly in the state’s best interest for Oregonians to participate as broadly as possible. While most of the tall wood buildings are likely to go up in the urban areas, the positive impacts of an expanded advanced wood products market would be felt throughout the state and the surrounding region, with rural areas potentially having the most to gain. And because about 75 percent of the wood products produced in Oregon are sold elsewhere, other states’ building codes matter a lot.
Voting in the ICC election is fairly simple. You must join the ICC, which is very easy to do online, and your application must be received by March 16. Membership is $135 - $370, depending on the population you serve, and it covers your entire agency, not just you as an individual. For example, the State Building Codes Division can join for $370, entitling it to 12 voters.
Once you have joined by the March 16 deadline, the next step is to assign individuals in your organization to be your “designated voting representatives.” These individuals can be employees of the member entity or “officials of the Government Member.” So, for smaller jurisdictions that might not have enough employees to meet the maximum voter number, your mayor or city councilors can be designated. All designated voting representatives must be named in writing by Sept. 23 in order to participate in the November vote.
It’s as simple as that: Join ICC by March 16, designate individual voters by Sept. 23, and vote during the November online voting period. It will benefit Oregon’s economy.
If you have questions, please email me or call my direct line at 971-673-3191.
Director of Forest Products
In the summer of 2017, Oregonians woke up and smelled not coffee, but the pungent aroma of a thick haze of smoke that had descended across the state.
After a mild 2016 wildfire season, following record seasons the previous two years, Oregon’s luck ran out. Despite the efforts of firefighting crews regarded as among the best for private and public lands, lightning and human-caused wildfires ravaged the state’s forests and rangelands, making 2017 one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.
News headlines quickly captured the expense of fighting all those fires, but fire suppression represents just a fraction of the true cost of wildfire. There are huge impacts to air quality and health, school athletics, travel and tourism, employment and the economy, transportation, and iconic Oregon economic sectors such as the state’s wine and timber industries.
No single state agency is charged with documenting these costs, so the Oregon Forest Resources Institute gathered what information is currently available from media reports, individual interviews and research. We released our 25-page report in January. You can read a four-page summary here.
What we found is that the causes of wildfire are complex. Fire does play an important role in Oregon’s fire-adapted forest ecosystems. We can never be “fire-free.” But it’s now up to the state’s leaders, scientists and policymakers to have a crucial conversation and chart a course where Oregonians can co-exist with fire while simultaneously mitigating its impact on our economy and our health. By looking at the non-suppression costs, the OFRI report highlights why the need for such a conversation has now reached the critical stage.
The 2017 wildfires encroached on the daily lives of our state’s 4 million residents. Hazardous smoke drifted into small communities and major metropolitan areas alike. Breathing was difficult and caused many school athletic contests, as well as outdoor concerts and performances, to be canceled. Restaurants, retailers and other businesses lost revenue. Highways closed. Workers took long detours to get to their jobs, or stayed home. More than 7,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to fire danger.
Air quality and health
Wildfire smoke, a mix of particulate matter and gases, irritates the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system, and can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
At high levels, it’s dangerous even for healthy people, but it is especially dangerous for those with chronic health conditions, people older than 65, infants, children and pregnant women.
During the 2017 fire season, most of Oregon experienced hazardous levels of smoke, including 160 days that were considered Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG), compared to none of those days in 2016 and fewer than half that many at the USG level in 2015.
This led to a variety of impacts, including:
- Increased emergency room visits – 86 percent higher than expected in the first week of September, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
- Cancellations of high school sporting events. Oregon high schools canceled dozens of football and soccer games from August through October – more than four times as many as were canceled in 2016 and 2015.
Travel, tourism and employment
According to the most recent figures, Oregon’s tourism industry employs about 110,000 people and generates $11.3 billion in economic impact for the state. In 2017, wildfires hit the industry with blazing force, keeping away tourists and the money they would spend in Oregon. According to the Oregon Employment Department, hundreds of tourism workers received early layoff notices.
Among the high-profile impacts of the wildfire smoke that blanketed the state were:
- The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland canceled nine performances in 2017, a direct loss of $373,000. About 85 percent of its audience is composed of tourists. In an average year, the festival adds about $130 million to the local economy. It announced that it will trim 12 positions from its 2018 budget after last year’s revenue shortfall.
- Cycle Oregon canceled its annual ride, a premier cycling event for the state. The ride travels through different parts of rural Oregon each year, amounting to $450,000 spent in local communities.
- The Sisters Folk Festival was canceled. This annual community festival attracts 5,000 visitors to central Oregon and generates $1.2 million. The proceeds would have benefited arts education programs.
For nearly three weeks, all drivers were detoured off Interstate 84 when the highway was closed from Hood River to Troutdale because of fire danger. This translated to long detours for commuters and trucking companies – a hard economic hit.
About 20 percent of the 28,000 vehicles that travel the highway each day are freight trucks delivering goods, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Longer travel distances meant extra time and cost.
In central Oregon, U.S. Highway 20 experienced traffic congestion. In the Brookings area, Highway 101 was closed off and on during the fire season, affecting 18,000 vehicles a day.
Rural and social impacts
The fires also impacted other areas of community life, including:
- Oregon’s timber industry and its workers faced reduced log supply at plywood plants, temporary mill shutdowns, restrictions on logging because of dry conditions, and losses of heavy equipment and timber due to fire
- limits on recreational opportunities, with popular outdoor attractions and wilderness areas remaining closed because of fire damage
- a drain on the resources of nonprofit organizations that provided support for Oregonians displaced from their homes by fires
How do we move forward?
Wildfires caused by lightning and people wreaked havoc on Oregon’s forests and rangelands in 2017, and the impact on Oregon life was far-reaching.
It’s clear that, with 665,000 acres burned in 2017, the state lost timber that supports the wood products industry, as well as other forest benefits such as outdoor recreation, beautiful scenery, wildlife habitat and healthy watersheds.
It’s also obvious that fires are costly in terms of suppression efforts. During the peak of the 2017 fire season in Oregon, some 8,000 firefighters were working to put out wildfires across the state. In total, it cost $454 million to fight all those fires.
Yet the costs don’t stop there. The blazes and the smoky air they produced also took a toll on people’s health, and on their ability to safely spend time outside. Event cancellations, highway closures and residential evacuations affected the economy, including significant losses to tourism, trucking and recipients of goods, among other industries.
Oregon is not alone in suffering worsening fire seasons. In the western United States, the length of the average fire season has grown by 78 days since 1970, from five months to more than seven months. The questions loom: Is this the new normal? What economic and human effects did Oregon experience in 2017, and what similar impacts will wildfires have going forward?
As a society we need to ask: How we co-exist with a fire-based forest ecosystem? What do we want from our forests in the future? Finding the answers will be hard and perhaps unpleasant, but the alternative of simply waiting to suffer through another fire season similar to 2017’s would be kicking the can down the road.
Are there options in the forest management toolbox to address some of the problems caused by wildfires? And if so, how do we overcome obstacles to effectively using forest management tools in at-risk communities and ecosystems?
This all begs one more question: Where do we go from here?
For the forest,
Pollinators are very important to Oregon agriculture and gardening, because pollination is necessary for the production of many fruits and vegetables. But since Colony Collapse Disorder was first discovered in European honeybees in 2006, there has been a rising concern for the well-being of pollinators. As a result, scientists have sought to learn more about our native pollinators and the health of their populations.
Pollinators are any animal that moves pollen from one plant to another. In Oregon, pollinators include bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps and flies.
Scientists continue to gain a better understanding of just how important many native pollinators are to our state’s agriculture and garden crops. They’ve also learned that how the forests and wildlands around our agricultural land are managed can have an impact on pollinators.
For instance, it turns out managed forests are very important habitat for pollinators. That’s because pollinators thrive in disturbed sites such as recent burns, windfalls and timber harvests. A study being conducted by Jim Rivers of the Oregon State University College of Forestry’s Forest Animal Ecology Lab has shown that native bees are found in high numbers in the open areas where timber harvest was recently conducted. His research team has also found a higher abundance of bees in areas that burned in wildfires.
Open areas with full sunlight, including recent clearcuts, meadows, savannahs and pastures, can provide habitat for pollinators, especially if there are suitable plant forage and nesting opportunities. Besides open areas, pollinators need flowering plants because pollen and nectar are their main food sources. Planting these types of plants is a good way to help pollinators.
One Oregon forest products company, Portland-based Hampton Lumber, is experimenting with planting a custom pollinator-friendly seed mix in recent clearcuts on their timberland, to help boost native pollinator populations. Other forest landowners are watching this and considering doing the same.
To help forest landowners learn more about pollinators and ways they can help conserve native populations, OFRI recently published a new fact sheet called “Pollinators and Forestry.” You can download a copy here. The fact sheet features a list of plant species that could be included in pollinator-friendly seed mixes. It also lists the understory plants that benefit from and are important for pollinators. These are good species to keep across the landscape to support healthy pollinator populations.
With the research showing that pollinators benefit from managed forests, conscious management decisions such as planting pollinator-friendly seed mixes after a timber harvest could enhance those benefits. By providing a mosaic of different age classes, including recently harvested areas with forage and nesting opportunities near farmland, forestry could help make a difference for declining pollinator populations.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
Fran Cafferata Coe
Certified Wildlife Biologist ®
On Nov. 6, Gov. Kate Brown issued “Executive Order 17-20, Accelerating Efficiency in Oregon’s Built Environment to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Address Climate Change.” It lays out 17 directives intended to reduce carbon emissions from buildings, primarily through energy-efficiency measures.
Energy efficiency is important, particularly in light of the thousands of inefficient, 40-plus-year-old buildings that make up a majority of Oregon’s built environment. Buildings, through their construction and operation, are the single biggest contributor to carbon emissions – surprisingly, even worse than the transportation sector.
The goal of EO 17-20 is for all newly constructed state buildings to achieve carbon-neutral operations by the year 2022. That’s great. I hope we can get there. In fact, we should strive for all new buildings, state-owned or otherwise, to achieve carbon neutrality. Seems to me it wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Spurred by the popularity of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building-rating system, we’ve made huge strides in energy-efficiency technology over the past three decades. Rare is the new building today that isn’t heavily insulated and equipped with high-efficiency heating and ventilation systems. Many make good use of daylighting, are equipped with wastewater recycling systems or have some sort of clean-energy-generation system such as rooftop wind turbines or solar panels. Often, today’s new buildings have all the above and more. We’ve gotten so good at energy efficiency that soon the day will come when the larger source of carbon emissions is the energy consumed to make the materials used to construct the building in the first place.
That’s a point not lost on developers such as Ben Kaiser, whose cross-laminated timber (CLT) building, known as Carbon12, is nearly complete. Long before EO 17-20 was issued, Kaiser recognized the need to make his north Portland condominium project energy-efficient. As such, he designed into it things like exterior insulation that wraps the entire structure, so the building requires less energy to heat or cool. Large, highly efficient windows maximize daylighting while achieving better-than-code thermal efficiency. The condos in Carbon12 all have high-efficiency heat exchangers that allow warm air from one unit to mix with cooler air from another so energy isn’t wasted. And the building is solar-ready, with state-of-the-art systems in place for when residents choose to add solar panels.
Kaiser also understands that we need to go beyond just energy efficiency if we want to fully mitigate the carbon impacts of buildings. Because he chose wood as the primary material for Carbon12’s structure, he knows the energy-efficiency measures he incorporated will achieve their maximum effect much sooner than if he’d chosen more energy-intensive materials that don’t store carbon the way wood does.
The extremely low amount of energy needed to make wood products, and their incredible ability to store atmospheric carbon, gives timber buildings a head start. Before builders installed a single piece of insulation, the wood in Carbon12 had already offset about 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Had Kaiser instead chosen to build with reinforced concrete, for example, it would have taken years, perhaps even decades, before the energy-efficiency measures he added to the building would have the chance to offset the emissions associated with making the concrete and the steel rebar.
We already know how to build highly energy-efficient buildings, and Gov. Brown is right to encourage faster adoption of those technologies. But let’s also remain cognizant of the very real gains that can be had by choosing building materials wisely. There’s no reason we can’t do both.
Director of Forest Products