What is Mass Timber?
Mass Timber is an emerging technology that flattens and bonds smaller wood components together in layers. The results are structural panels, posts, and beams.
These parts and pieces reduce the complexity during construction.
You can learn more about Mass Timber on the WoodWorks website here.
Is Mass Timber cheaper to use than traditional materials?
Yes and no.
Mass Timber as a material (the panels, posts, and beams) usually cost as much or more than the traditional materials it replaces.
However, the labor required to assemble a prefabricated kit is significantly less than a traditional build. This, combined with standardizing the frame, offers substantial savings over traditional means and methods.
I have a friend that knows a lot about Mass Timber,they say it's not cheaper for residential construction.
Understood. This is a common take on Mass Timber, and with good reason. Let's see if we can unpack it a bit.
This argument is usually directed at the Schedule of Values (SOV) on a residential scale and says something like this:
"you're only replacing the framing and some structure...that makes up a small percentage of the total cost of building a house...so the savings are insignificant...mass timber only makes sense on big buildings...at scale"
We're not scaling up like on a high rise, but we are scaling out for rural housing. We're building the same structure over and over again across a region. If you look at the ROI at a macro level you are getting the scale on the material. So the comparison on a material scale is not one high rise to one house. It's one high rise to a hundred homes.
Material costs are not the biggest hurdle to reducing the overall cost of housing. It's labor. And it's getting worse, especially in rural areas. Prefabricating a kit of parts significantly shortens the schedule and the required labor (even if only for the framing and structural components).
Also, this argument is trying to shove the current Mass Timber parts and pieces into single-family homes. Mass Timber is a technology, and we can use that tech to create "mini" parts and pieces that are appropriate for residential construction.
The trojan horse of Mass Timber housing is the move from bespoke construction to industrialized construction. By prefabricating the parts and pieces in a manufacturing facility, we can take on more of that residential SOV. Can we add piping for plumbing to our panels? What about electrical wiring? Shingles for the roof? Windows in the panels?
How are you funding this effort?
We are pursuing a diverse funding stack. It will be a mix of grants, impact investors, and debt. The facility will drive this stack. Finding a site and/or facility is our critical path.
In the meantime, we are funding current design work and planning with private funds to keep moving forward.
We have multiple potential funding partners that have been working with us from the beginning and are part of our coalition.
We're continually looking for additional partners who fit our vision and values.
What do you mean by mass timber "mini-mill"?
We are designing our program to produce and finish mass timber parts and pieces in regional mini-mills.
Traditionally, mass timber manufacturing requires a massive investment due to the size of the facility and the equipment required for production. Think in the $50M to $150M range. To recoup this investment these facilities need to maximize production to really pump out the parts. Further, there needs to be proof of demand for this much product. So it’s a chicken and egg situation.
That’s why we don’t have a mass timber production facility in the eastern United States. Demand hasn’t reached a threshold to justify the investment.
Our approach is from a different angle.
First, we are working at a rural residential scale. Our projects are less than 3 stories and can use smaller mass timber parts. These parts are easier to move around and don’t require the same massive equipment to manufacture.
If we need larger panels we can source them from another supplier.
We are consuming these parts ourselves to build our housing kits. So we have pull demand built into our model to consume our parts. We are the egg.
Also, our model is focused on partnering with local builders to supply them with housing kits that make housing more affordable and start an economic flywheel. With a regional model we can use hyper local timber and only supply the amount of parts needed by the region.
All these factors will allow us to create mass timber regional mini-mills with a $5M - $15M investment (depending on capacity). By decentralizing production we have an agile footprint that can rapidly react to changes in the market, including new technology.
How is Mass Timber good for the environment?
Building with Mass Timber reduces the overall carbon footprint.
Timber is one of the few natural, renewable, and structural building materials on the planet. It doesn’t require fossil fuels to grow a tree (it uses photosynthesis). Responsible timber harvesting produces more efficient forests. As trees are planted, grown, and harvested, more carbon is continually sequestered.
Trees are grown in abundance right here in the Northeast Kingdom and don’t need to be imported, reducing the amount of energy expended on shipping and transport.
Wood is a durable material and can be put in a cycle of use and reuse that can last for generations. We have a local church building that was built in the 1850s using timber from a schoolhouse that was built in the late 1700s…that is now being converted to yet another use.
What about deforestation? Aren't you cutting down trees to create Mass Timber?
Deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. This could be for agriculture, animal grazing, development, etc.
Deforestation occurs when there is a higher demand for land than wood products. According to the USDA Forest Service, long-term loss in the U.S. forested areas in recent decades has primarily been due to “conversion to urban and developed uses.”
After two centuries of decline, the area of US forestland stabilized in about 1920 and has since increased. Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s.
One way to slow deforestation is to create better markets for forest products, like Mass Timber.
“…rather than leading to wide-scale loss of forestlands, growing markets for tree products can provide incentives for maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks and land cover, and improving forest health through management.”
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
What is your biggest challenge right now?
Finding a manufacturing site.
We've looked at dozens of pieces of property and done due diligence on several.
For example, an ideal site is the Ralston Mill site in St Johnsbury. This site could be a regional driver for economic develpment. It's in town, it's on the interstate, it's perfect for light manufacturing, and it would help continue the revitalization of St Johnsbury. If you know Bruce, tell him the same :)
Otherwise we are looking at various options from old sawmills and log yards to building our own facility on a few acres of well positioned land.
If you have a lead on some property that might work please let us know.
Are you interested in housing or mass timber and want to get involved? We need help. If you can contribute, let's have a conversation. Shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org