The cost of wood is causing builders in Silicon Valley to adopt new technologies

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Timber costs have skyrocketed during the pandemic, but local builders say it is on the up.

“It’s still above the norm, but it’s going back,” said Russell White, general manager of Lendlease America’s design-build division. “We expect volatility to return within normal limits.”

The price of wood is $ 756 per thousand board feet on July 2, according to MarketWatch. A board foot is a foot long and a foot wide and an inch deep.

Timber prices have historically stayed below $ 500 per thousand board feet. But prices rose dramatically in August 2020, reaching

Wood is used in a variety of ways in construction projects, especially in apartment buildings. Softwood is used in wall frames and scaffolding, and is also used as a frame for concrete casting.

The use of lumber in various parts of the construction makes the high price an important factor in development projects, according to White.

“It had a significant impact on the multi-family industry here in San Jose,” said White, adding that lumber was the most volatile of any building commodity last year.

Geoffrey Morgan, president and CEO of affordable housing developer First Community Housing, said that home builders need to build denser housing to make projects financially viable. This higher density leads to taller buildings that use a lot of wood.

“Right now, timber framing is getting very expensive because as COVID is coming to an end … there has been a shortage of people,” Morgan told San Jose Spotlight. “We kept building, but the problem is when you look at new projects we see massive increases in wood prices.”

Morgan said a concrete-and-steel-based building would be expensive unless the building owners decide to charge high rents. So his company looked for other solutions, including new building technologies such as modular construction and solid wood.

A new senior housing complex from Urban Catalyst will be the first eight-story solid wood structure to be approved in the Bay Area. Image courtesy of Aedis Architects.

According to Thang Do, CEO of San Jose-based Aedis Architects, mass timber is a pre-engineered construction system that cuts wood into modules for denser construction projects.

“It is wood, but it is produced by a completely different supply chain than the sawmills,” said Do. “In the long term, the use of solid wood should bring many benefits … the material costs are a factor, but it (also) reduces the work on site and the total working time is considerable. “

California passed new building codes this month that allow developers to build buildings up to 18 stories tall from solid wood, according to a report from AIA Los Angeles.

The use of solid wood will reduce the weight and lateral drag of taller buildings and reduce the amount of concrete needed for the foundation of each building, which will further reduce costs.

“You can build eight stories out of wood using all the solid wood,” said Do. “You don’t have to mix concrete with wood, or you can use a lot less concrete than you would.”

A new senior housing complex slated for the southwest corner of Gifford Avenue and San Carlos Streets in San Jose will be the first approved eight-story solid wood building in the Bay Area, according to Do. The complex to be built by Urban Catalyst will comprise 117 residential units within walking distance of Diridon train station.

Another project near Diridon, being built by First Community Housing and Lendlease, uses solid wood construction. The building will be 12 stories high and offer 141 units of affordable housing.

Ultimately, it is the potential for lowering construction costs that drives developers to new technologies such as solid wood. Morgan said using solid wood saved First Community Housing a lot of money.

“It’s a new technology, so there are risks … but it’s becoming more and more accepted,” said Morgan. “Globally, cost is the reason we’re researching these new technologies.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.



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