A Look at Wood Use in Nonresidential Construction


There are many options for wood use in nonresidential construction.

Low-rise nonresidential buildings are an important market for lumber, engineered wood products, and structural and nonstructural wood panels in the United States. In a cooperative study between the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and major wood industry associations, researchers evaluated the types and quantities of solid wood used in buildings, such as factories, churches, and schools, with six or fewer stories above ground level.


FPL Research Forester Dave McKeever

FPL Research Forester Dave McKeever was involved in the international study. “We aimed to determine the amount of wood products currently being used and identify areas where wood can be used in place of nonrenewable building materials,” says McKeever.

According to the published report, in 2011, the value of all low-rise nonresidential buildings constructed totaled $208 billion. The construction of nearly 10,500 new buildings and major additions, as well as alterations and renovations to numerous existing buildings, consumed a remarkable amount of material:

627 million board feet of lumber
27 million linear feet of wood I-joists
67 million board feet of glulam timber
6 million cubic feet of structural composite lumber
1 million square feet of engineered rim boards
712 million square feet of structural panels
19 million square feet of nonstructural panels

Although these numbers look impressive, McKeever says the most surprising thing he learned from this study was how much the recession of the late 2000s was still having a severe impact on nonresidential construction, the value of which was 35 percent below the high reached in 2008.

As a research forester, McKeever monitors and assesses the various end uses of wood products. He has also studied wood use in residential construction, and explains that the nonresidential market is a bit trickier to work with.

“Wood components used in typical home construction are fairly similar and therefore easier to measure,” says McKeever. “It is difficult to predict the impact of nonresidential construction on wood use because the types of buildings are very diverse in how they are constructed, and the places where wood can feasibly be used change drastically between building types.”

This diversity also offers opportunities for using wood in new ways, however, and McKeever’s report serves as a tool for helping wood products manufacturers determine where they can promote the use of wood to architects and designers in ways not commonly known.

For more information, see the executive summary of the report.

For WAY more information, the full 123-page report is also available.

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