Clarkys Comment - June

Congratulations to Grow Rotorua for organising the 2016 Changing Perceptions of Engineered Timber for Construction. Held in Rotorua on 26th May this one day conference attracted local and international speakers and delegates to share knowledge and experiences in constructing with engineered timber.

 This sort of event matters because:

  1. New Zealand is lagging some other developed countries in the uptake of engineered wood for multi-storey construction. There is now in excess of 150 mid-rise (up to 6 storey) buildings in BC, Canada.
  2. Much of the future in-fill housing of Auckland will be multi-storey. Without increased use of engineered timber we will lose market share to steel and concrete.
  3. Case studies from Australia illustrate cost savings when using timber for multi-storey structures, compared to traditional concrete and steel. This fact is not well-understood by specifiers.
  4. Exposed timber in buildings leads to improved human health and feeling of well-being.
  5. Greater use of timber helps NZ meet its international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as save energy. A study by L.F. Cabeza in 2013 estimated that a 17% increase in wood use in the NZ building industry would result in a 20% reduction in carbon emissions from the manufacture of all building materials; 1.5% of NZ’s total emissions.
  6. A strong domestic market for engineered wood buildings would underpin investment in both making the Glulam, LVL and CLT plus high-tech CAD-based pre-fabrication factories. These investments and skills are a necessary precursor to de-risk export sales of pre-fabricated timber buildings.
  7. The biggest constraint to increased domestic engineered timber buildings is education of architects and engineers. This conference was to help address that problem.

Associate Minister for Primary Industries Hon Jo Goodhew addressed the conference and noted good progress with the revision of NZ3603 to better cope with engineered wood in multi-storey applications. This is good news. We look forward to the timely progression of this revision, as that will help with uptake.

I left the conference feeling that increased use of engineered timber was good for consumers, good for the NZ economy and the contribution the forestry sector could make to our GDP and good for the local environment and the planet.

I also felt that at the conference we had a room full of enthusiasts that were mostly already knowledgeable about engineered timber but that this was not enough to make any material difference to way buildings are specified and designed in New Zealand.

To make a real difference the specifiers, architects and engineers that were not at the conference need to be reached somehow. The simplest way to do that would be for government to mandate that a wood option must be presented for any government-funded building up to six stories. All of a sudden we would find lots of our architects and engineers showing interest in learning about use of engineered wood in buildings. Such a policy would fit well within a wider domestic action plan to meet NZ’s greenhouse gas commitments made at Paris last year. The government might even save some money!