Deconstructing Engineered Wood

Amid growing concerns about preserving older forests and increasing demand for wood products and applications, new, better wood products are being engineered to meet the needs of builders and the environment.

“Engineered wood” is generally manufactured by bonding together wood strands, veneers, lumber, or other forms of wood fiber to produce a larger and integral composite unit that is stronger and stiffer than the sum of the individual parts. One of the most widely used engineered wood products is plywood, which has been around for nearly a century. In recent years, however, manufacturing technology has led to other engineered wood building materials, including oriented strand board (OSB), glulam timber, wood I-beams, structural composite lumber, and structural composite panels.

Many of these products have become standard features in residential construction, and the benefits are numerous. From greater design flexibility with wide open spaces, to more structurally sound floors, walls and roofs, engineered wood is shaping the way we build.

Engineered wood is consistent with building green and makes “more efficient use” use of available resources, according to the APA - The Engineered Wood Association. “Engineered wood can be manufactured from fast-growing, underutilized, and less expensive wood species in privately managed forests. That helps safeguard older forests.”

Engineered wood also rates well when compared to non-wood products with regard to pollutants and emissions during manufacturing. Aluminum siding, for example, requires four times more energy-and brick veneer 22 times more energy-to produce and transport to a building site than equivalent wood siding. Concrete floors require 21 times more energy overall to be produced than do wood floors.

Even more important than these environmental benefits, however, is the fact that engineered wood is strong and durable, and can provide greater protection from the effects of natural disasters. It exceeds the performance ratings of its raw-wood counterparts. For example, cross-laminated plywood and OSB distribute along-the-grain strength in two directions, making it stronger overall. Wood I-joists and glulam beams carry greater loads over longer spans than are possible with solid sawn lumber of the same size.

The sales growth of engineered wood products is testimony to the technological adaptability of the wood products industry in the face of a changing wood fiber resource base. “With less traditional and public forest timber available for wood product manufacturing, producers are improving on existing methods and inventing new ways to make more with less, and with alternative wood fiber resources,” he says.