Engineers from FPL and the VA Inspect 134-Year-Old Milwaukee Medical Center Building

The first building in what is now the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was originally approved for construction by President Abraham Lincoln just one month before the end of the Civil War, for the care of disabled soldiers. That structure was completed in 1869.

Originally called the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and nicknamed the “Old Main,” the Zablocki VAMC now consists of 20 buildings.

Adam Senalik, FPL Engineer, visually inspecting the studs of a wall on the top floor of Building 7 at the Zablocki VAMC.

Last week, it was time for an inspection of Building 7 – the Soldiers’ Home. Like Buildings 2 and 5, it was built as a barracks for soldiers receiving care at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home. Consisting of three stories and a large basement foundation, the Soldier’s Home, designed by celebrated architect Henry Koch, was ready for business in 1888. Building 7 now supports the offices of the Compensated Work Therapy Department. New IT requirements require the VAMC to update the structural integrity of some of the older buildings.

Bob Ross, FPL Engineer, investigating the structural members in the wall system on the top floor of building 7. Note that the outer layers of the wall have been removed to expose the structural members.

To that end, Forest Products Laboratory Research General Engineers Bob Ross and Adam Senalik took the 90-minute drive to Milwaukee to join Erik Billstrom, on-site engineer for the VA, to carry out the necessary structural analyses.

Erik Billstrom, VA engineer, examines a large white pine timber in the high ceiling of the basement maintenance room and finds he is easily able to remove wood samples by hand.

According to Bob and Adam, FPL regularly receives requests for structural condition assessments, mostly dealing with historic wood structures, structural assessment, inspection, and assignment of allowable design values.

“We usually try to provide direct assistance to other Federal agencies and Departments,” said Bob. “This is especially true for the DoD and Veterans’ Administration.

“What matters most here,” added Bob, “is that this campus does good things for veterans.” The Zablocki VAMC serves more than 64,000 U.S. veterans every year.

Bob added that the book he coauthored, Wood and Timber Condition Assessment Manual, now in its second edition, summarizes structural condition assessment research currently used for wood and timber structures. The publication can be found at:  https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fpl_gtr234.pdf.  A previous FPL LabNotes article provides a summary of the manual here:  https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/labnotes/?p=4599.

Bob Ross reveals a deteriorated nail from the basement ceiling

Starting on the third floor of building 7, the three engineers began to examine the condition of the walls and ceiling.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” said Adam. “But about what we expected.” Previous engineering analyses had found that the structural beams were not designed for heavy weight. 

The group then climbed up into the dark attic above the third floor and removed a few samples of wood. The blackened strips of wood appeared as if they had been in a fire.

“Maybe they were at one time,” observed Bob. “Further analysis will tell us.”

Satisfied with their inspection and the samples they had acquired, the analysts moved down to the utility room on the basement level. Here, the late 19th-century origins of the building were even more apparent, with period arches and a brick wall that had survived more than a century of water damage. The wall appeared not unlike a medieval dungeon in its heavily “blurred” condition.

Erik set up and climbed a tall step ladder to examine a large white pine timber across the ceiling of the basement. He reached in and was able to effortlessly lift spacers out of the surrounding structure. Finally, the three engineers placed all their gathered samples into large, labeled plastic bags.

“It was a good inspection,” Adam concluded. “I only hope that this building can be saved.”

Collaboration Yields U.S. Patent for Green Building Materials

University of Colorado Denver (CU) professor and architect Julee Herdt, in collaboration with John Hunt of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), and Kellen Schauermann, architect, CU alumnus and research assistant, recently received a patent for environmental construction materials.

BioSIPs structural panels for wall, floor, and roof constructions.

The patent includes software and material science for converting 100 percent waste fibers, such as post-consumer wastepaper, agriculture residues, flowers, hemp, wood scraps, noxious weeds, dead trees, and other unwanted cellulose, into high-strength construction boards.  Using the technology, these dense yet lightweight and strong boards are bent and flexed into a virtually limitless array of shapes, from flat to complex, for making energy-efficient, non-off-gassing building materials, and buildings. The software also allows for associated manufacturing, economic, and recycling scenarios to be studied while the waste fiber eco-products are being designed. Continue reading

High-Rise Wood Buildings: Interactive Map Shows Construction Around the World

It’s safe to say we have a thing for tall wood buildings here at the Forest Products Laboratory.

Dalston Lane is a 121-home development set to open in London this summer.

Dalston Lane is a 121-home development set to open in London this summer.

Case in point: We study what happens to their moisture content during construction, look at how they perform in earthquakes, test fire retardant treatments for their components, host workshops about them and post the presentations for all the world to see, and even sponsor large events, like the Mass Timber Conference happening in Portland, Oregon, this week!

With all that in mind, you can imagine our excitement when curbed.com published an interactive map (swoon!) of all the wooden high-rises in the world, some completed, others under construction or in concept. Scroll through the list or click a number on the map to read about the buildings’ features, see photos and drawings, and find out more via website links.

Even if you’re not quite as obsessed with wood as we are, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed with this cyber-trip around the world to see some truly stunning architecture.

FPL Partner Procures Patent: Better Building With BioSIPS

Whether serving as a bookshelf, tabletop, or wall panel, the composite board is a ubiquitous construction material found in furniture and homes alike. Traditional composite boards use mankind’s most trusted building resource, wood, as a base — but a new patented process using waste products stands to revolutionize the familiar building material, making it even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

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BioSIPS use low-value recycled material to make high-value structural materials.

Julee Herdt, a professor at the University of Colorado – Denver, and Kellen Schauermann, a former graduate student, were recently awarded a patent for their Bio-Structural Insulated Panels (BioSIPS) system. BioSIPS are structural boards comprised of waste material such as recycled paper, noxious weeds, industrial hemp, and forest debris.

Herdt, the CEO and president of BioSIPS Inc., hopes that her product will help ease the environmental and energy concerns of tomorrow.

Although wood-based Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) have been around for some time, Herdt’s BioSIPS, made from 100% recycled material, could replace their conventional wood counterparts. BioSIPS wall, floor, and roof panels even surpass conventional SIPS in some strength-testing areas (especially compressive and transverse loading) as well as exhibit superior thermal characteristics — which is important, as thermally-efficient structures go hand-in-hand with decreased energy usage.

Herdt’s accomplishment comes on the heels of a long legacy of research and collaboration with the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). In 1995, she was part of a project that researched and tested GRIDCORE (FPL’s Spaceboard) panels — three-dimensional, molded structural panels comprised of recycled corrugated containers, old newsprint, and kenaf, a plant native to southern Asia. The name “spaceboard” referred to the spaces afforded by the waffle-like design of the GRIDCORE panels, which allowed for increased strength and decreased weight and material usage.

Nearly 20 years later, BioSIPS, like GRIDCORE panels before them, carry on the tradition of turning society’s low-grade waste into high-value products that have proven utility in real-world construction projects. Along with her personal office, Herdt and her team built entire houses with BioSIPS, winning first prize at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in 2002 and 2005.

biosips

Herdt, Schauermann and Hunt await another patent for new methods of creating complex three-dimensional shapes with fiber boards.

Herdt and Schauermann, along with FPL Research General Engineer John Hunt, are awaiting the award of a second patent, Cut-Fold Shape Technology for Engineered Molded Fiber Boards, which relates to a new process of folding fiber boards into three-dimensional shapes to maximize their utility and strength.

In a world of increased environmental awareness, BioSIPS promise to offer designers, engineers, and industry professionals new ways to build strong, energy-efficient structures and provide another avenue for society to make better use of its waste products. Through technologies like these, we will better be able to tackle the construction challenges of tomorrow in an environmentally responsible way.

 

 

Insulation Guide Hopes to Comfort Engineers and Occupants Alike

If you haven’t been on a construction site lately, the word “insulation” will bring to mind one thing: long rolls of paper-backed pink fiberglass. This decades-old mainstay of residential construction is used in over 90% of homes in the United States, but it is not the only, nor the most efficient, type of insulation.

As the demand for high-efficiency building materials increases, engineers and contractors are looking for new ways of keeping the occupants of tomorrow’s buildings comfortable, and the existing buildings of today compliant with increasingly demanding codes.

One possible solution? High-efficiency foam insulation and wood structural panels. The problem in implementing these new technologies? The unknown.

A computer illustration of a 2x6 wall framing package.

A computer illustration of a 2×6 wall framing package.

Changes in building codes mean that existing buildings looking to improve their R-Value (a measure of an insulation’s efficiency) are left with two options: increase the cavity insulation, or add exterior insulation. Despite its ease of use and high performance, only 10% of homes use exterior rigid foam and insulated wood structural panels. Implementation of these new materials are limited by a lack of specific performance details and concerns over long-term moisture performance and hazard resistance.

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) hopes to answer some of these questions, and help bring high R-Value exterior foam and insulated wood structural panels into the mainstream. In cooperation with the Department of Energy’s Building America program and Home Innovation Research Labs, FPL researchers are working to assemble a Builder’s Guide to support a wider adoption of energy-efficient wall systems in residential construction.

The first edition will focus on two primary wall systems: 2×6 walls with optimized framing and 2×4 walls with exterior foam insulation. These two wall systems represent the best of adaptable, mainstream, energy-efficient options that use standard materials and require a minimal learning curve.

The guide, geared toward industry professionals, should be available in early 2016, and will contain advice for builders that can be readily implemented in the field using available methods and materials. The publication will cover everything from minimum code requirements and best practices, to 3-D graphics showing various construction options.

With this new guide, builders and engineers will have peace of mind about the performance of these new technologies and be armed with the knowledge to make informed decisions about these new insulation systems. Together, they will keep us all warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and reduce our energy requirements for the decades ahead.

For more information, please see the FPL Research in Progress publication Builder’s Guide to Energy-Efficient and Durable Wood-Frame Walls.