Like much of the industry, engineered wood producers are still navigating a fickle recovery in which builders are challenged by supply constraints, tight lending, and hard-to-come-by lots. Though the market is emerging from the recession, it’s still on the slow side.
“The demand is there for 1.5 million housing units. We’re not meeting that,” says Joe Elling, director of market research for APA–The Engineered Wood Association. Production is up on a year-ago basis, “but starts could be stronger if some of these supply-side constraints were not as binding,” Elling says. “I anticipate a modest improvement in the second half of the year, but it’s still going to be agonizingly slow going forward.”
For engineered lumber manufacturers and the dealers who sell their products, the slow recovery presents both challenges and opportunities. Along with the obvious—a slower return to at-peak sales—the ongoing labor shortages have created an even stronger need for product education. At the same time, those labor constraints provide even more motivation toward using engineered products that boost efficiencies and cut back on waste.
Warm to Wood
Overall, the industry has seen a positive boost in public opinion toward wood products, be they engineered or otherwise, as high-profile projects showcase their capabilities, beauty, and warmth.
“One of the biggest things in the forest products industry today that affects EWP the most is the general feeling in the world that wood is good,” says Mike McCollum, director of engineered wood business at Roseburg. “Wood is now the first choice in everybody’s eyes. Its sustainability, its efficiencies, its workability, its natural warmth, along with the fact that it is easy to design with and easy to build with…everyone has been awakened to this idea that wood is good. Then, when you take it to the next step, everything that engineered wood brings to the construction market is highlighted even more.”
Coming out of the recession, McCollum notes, engineered products lost some ground to 2x10s but, as has happened historically, EWP has come back stronger than before. “We are now in a position where we are not only recapturing losses of the recession, but at the same time experiencing a good steady growth in engineered wood market share,” he says. “It is really a good time to be in the engineered wood business.”
And the numbers agree. In its annual Market Outlook, APA said it anticipates increasing demand for North American engineered wood products, with non-panel products growing by 20-25% from 2015 to 2019. The report points specifically to I-joist volume, which is expected to grow from 750 million linear feet in 2015 to 955 million linear feet by 2019, and to LVL, likely to increase from 68.8 million cubic feet to 88 million cubic feet.
There is concern about an impending shortage of LVL in a couple of years, and manufacturers and dealers are preparing for that. “Being aligned with a brand that has been thinking about it is a really good idea,” says Tim Debelius, marketing programs manager for Boise, noting that Boise recently purchased two new mills and is prepping to ramp them up while also reinvesting in existing plants.