On July 6, Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the Timber Innovation Act (H.R. 5628). The bill supports new construction of so-called “tall wood” buildings through the establishment of federal research and development programs. Tall wood buildings use wood construction materials that are cheaper and have lower lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to traditional construction materials such as steel and concrete. The bill is a companion to Senate bill (S. 2892), introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Mike Crapo (R-ID).  


What’s So New About Wood Buildings?

Tall wood buildings, which the bill defines as those over seven stories, are constructed using innovative new wood products. These wood products are collectively referred to as “mass timber”. Currently, two tall wood buildings are being built in the United States – one in Portland, Oregon, and one in New York City. Many more have been built with these new wood products internationally, especially in Europe.

Mass Timber products on the market include cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated strand lumber (LSL), and laminated veneer lumber (LVL). These products are dense and layered, making them stronger, more structurally sound, and more fire resistant than traditional wood construction. Along with its sturdiness, the fire resistant properties of mass timber allows these new wood buildings to be much higher than traditional wood buildings. Cross-laminated timber is the most common mass timber product, and is made from perpendicular layers of wood sandwiched together. CLT panels are lightweight, prefabricated for easy installation, and offer beautiful and unusual design flexibility.


Buildings Account for Nearly Half of U.S. Emissions

Buildings have an outsized impact on emissions. In the United States, the built environment is highly energy inefficient. Buildings account for 40 percent of domestic energy consumption, cause nearly half of U.S. carbon emissions, and consume 75 percent of generated electricity.

Given buildings high energy usage, buildings can and should be part of the climate solution. Many of the nation’s buildings will need to be built or renovated in the next 25 years, which presents an opportunity to both use materials with a lower lifecycle carbon footprint while also greatly increasing buildings’ energy efficiency.


Wood: A Renewable, Low Carbon Building Material

Concrete, one of the most common building materials, is incredibly carbon intensive. Besides water, concrete is the second most consumed material on the planet with up to five percent of global carbon emissions coming from the concrete industry alone. Steel and glass are also energy intensive to produce.

As architects, engineers and planners increasingly turn towards buildings-oriented climate solutions, many are discovering wood to be a cost effective, low-carbon material. Using lifecycle assessment, designers can calculate the benefit of using mass timber versus traditional building materials by considering the amount of carbon stored in the wood, avoided emissions, and regrowth of U.S. forests. Sustainably managed forests with sustainable timber harvest rates are also key to making mass timber a more environmentally friendly choice.

Moreover, increasingly severe western wildfires have amplified the urgency of forest thinning projects; active management can reduce the risk of wildfire while providing additional timber for wood products. These active management strategies are being addressed by a separate Senate bill, Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act of 2016.

Upon the introduction of the Timber Innovation Act, Rep. DelBene (D-WA), stated, “Encouraging the use of green building materials instead of building materials dependent on fossil fuels reduces greenhouse gases creating a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.”


Timber Innovation Act Would Incentivize Domestic Wood Products Manufacturing

In addition to authorizing the continuation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tall Wood Building Prize Competition for the next five years, the Timber Innovation Act would provide federal grants to encourage awareness, outreach, and research and development for tall wood buildings.

It also focuses efforts on communities with high unemployment that have suffered from reduced timber harvests or mill closures. Currently, there is only one manufacturing plant for CLTs in the United States, DR Johnson in Riddic, Oregon, but there is growing interest in these jobs that can’t be outsourced to outside the woodshed. This focus, authored by Rep. Kilmer, would help to revitalize rural, traditionally forestry dependent communities. Kilmer said, “Folks in my region don’t want the top export of our rural communities to be young people.”

The proposed bill has been endorsed by nearly 100 forestry, timber, and wildlife organizations. American Wood Council President and CEO Robert Glowinski said in his endorsement of the bill, “The rise of green building practices means more attention is being paid than ever before to how our country’s buildings impact the environment, and Congress has taken note.”


Author: Rebecca Chillrud



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