Mass Timber Mills Coming to Maine — but where and when?

The mass timber supply chain is coming to New England but where and when, exactly, remains an open question. In February of this year, two companies announced they would be opening cross-laminated timber (CLT) factories in Maine within eighteen to twenty-four months. SmartLam, LLC of Montana committed to announcing a mill site as did North Carolina-based LignaTerra Global. LignaTerra, working closely with the on-the-ground economic development organization Our Katahdin, has indicated it may locate within or near shuttered paper mills in Millinocket, helping to revive the local forest products economy.

Both companies would take advantage of the considerable spruce-fir resource in Maine, found to be suitable for CLT manufacture and construction and already supported by a regional logging and milling industry.

But neither has announced exactly where they will locate these facilities and when they will break ground.

Each indicates that strong demand is driving their decision. SmartLam has considered construction of a second plant in its Columbia Falls, MT location to be able to fill orders for CLT across the country, and says the decision to locate in Maine came as a response to a growing number of inquiries from the U.S. Northeast.

We hope to hear the Maine announcements soon, knowing that the companies will start to generate mass timber expertise and a new supply chain for wood fiber in New England that brings value to our region’s forests. Stay tuned.

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NEFF to Advise MIT Mass Timber Design Project on Affordable Housing

It seems that each month presents an exciting new partnership in service of bringing mass timber construction to New England. This August, NEFF has been invited to advise MIT architect John Klein on a project to bring affordable housing design to developers.

The project, “An Engineering Demonstration for a Mass Timber Affordable Housing Prototype for Large-Scale Urban Deployment,” was awarded a USDA Forest Service 2018 Wood Innovations Grant in May. It will bring the considerable resources of MIT to help streamline the mass timber building design and pricing process. The goal is to scale up mass timber deployment as an affordable housing solution in the Boston area and beyond.

Klein has been working on modular mass timber affordable housing designs for several years. Working in collaboration with MassPort, a state agency with considerable real estate along Boston Harbor, the Spring Studio in the MIT Master’s of Architecture program brought students and faculty together to develop affordable housing designs for Boston’s piers. Through his firm, John Klein Design, Klein has been imagining a range of housing solutions using the material.

Considering the need for more affordable and more sustainable housing in the Boston area, this project could be arriving just in time to make mass timber the new mid-rise, mixed use development solution.

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Affordable housing building prototype; John Klein Design

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Microstudio design; John Klein Design

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Let’s get buildings built

Last summer, when we released our report on the viability of cross-laminated timber in New England, we did not quite imagine how quickly mass timber might begin to take off in our region.

Mass timber supply is coming, with the announcements six months ago of two companies bringing CLT plants to northern Maine and a third entrepreneur actively seeking investors for a site in western Massachusetts. The state of Maine made grants to attract their factories, and just two weeks ago the Massachusetts legislature authorized $3 million for a plant in the Commonwealth in its annual budget bill.

Now we need buildings. Architects, developers, and contractors from Portland to Boston are showing interest in using mass timber in upcoming projects. But they’re daunted by using a new material, and even by figuring out what a mass timber project might cost.

At NEFF, we’re working closely with one construction company and several developers and architects to conduct exercises in how to price a mass timber structure, including estimating the initial costs of supply and reduced costs in time and labor savings. As the costs of concrete and steel continue to rise, the initial differential for materials may be shrinking. NEFF is working with these and other partners in the region to put numbers to projects to help develop short-term financial incentives that may encourage early adopters to get underway.

At the same time, we’re keeping an eye on the forests and on how these projects can truly help mitigate climate change. Our modelers in Maine are conducting a Life Cycle Analysis of the carbon sequestration potential of a mass timber building, focusing – as no one else has done – on the in-forest impacts of harvesting for CLT and other mass timber products. Our intention is to develop industry standards to maximize the carbon benefits, and forest health, for forests used for this new product.

We intend to bring mass timber on a mass scale to New England – to encourage a forests-to-cities carbon sink, and to do it in a way that serves as a model for the rest of the country and the world. Let’s get some buildings built.

Image result for Newark CLT mass timber office building

Just south of us, a mixed use office tower to be built of CLT in Newark, NJ was just announced a few months ago. Image credit: The Architect’s Newspaper, archdaily.com.