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Get Re-Oriented: The Technology Behind Sustainable Building

Sustainable forests are critical to the homebuilding industry for reasons beyond just protecting our planet. First and foremost, the affordability of building materials is absolutely dependent on a sustainable supply of lumber.

Oriented strand board, or OSB, helps ensure lumber supplies remain plentiful and affordable in two ways: first, by using raw materials more efficiently, and second, by using younger trees that are quickly replenished. That makes OSB a smart alternative to traditional lumber and plywood. And, OSB is less expensive throughout most of the country as well.

First developed in the 1970s, OSB is now the leading structural panel product in North America. It’s one of eight types of engineered wood recognized by the Engineered Wood Association (APA). By reducing raw wood into small strands before reassembling them into a layered building material, OSB is able to virtually eliminate the defects and inconsistencies found in natural lumber.

Since OSB entered the structural panel market in 1980, it has evolved through ongoing research and development in composite wood technology. Both the overall production capabilities of OSB manufacturing plants and the product itself have improved over the years through significant technological innovation aimed at meeting the changing needs of builders.

The original process involved slicing logs into wafers, mixing the wafers with resin, and then pressing the mixture into sheets. As one of the world’s first OSB manufacturers, LP called its product “Waferwood” and advertised it as “the smart man’s plywood.” Since then, the manufacturing process has evolved to produce a stronger, more durable product.

Today, OSB is made by blending rectangular wood strands with thermal-set, waterproof adhesives. For added strength, the treated strands are arranged in cross-directional layers, meaning the wood grain is perpendicular to layers above and below it. The strands are then pressed together under heat and extreme pressure, resulting in a rigid, stable engineered panel.

Stronger and straighter than natural wood, OSB panels are suitable for a variety of structural and non-structural applications, including sub-flooring, underlayment, roof sheathing, wall sheathing, and exterior siding. Today’s technology is even allowing for further advancements, such as the lamination of foil to roof sheathing to form a radiant barrier, or adding grooves to sub-flooring for consistent alignment between panels. Manufacturers even have the ability to infuse OSB products with additional moisture resistance or borates to prevent termites from ravaging the wood.

Widely used in residential construction, OSB is gaining recognition in the commercial construction industry as well.

According to a recent report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., wood panels account for over 60 percent of consumption in the construction sector, with the demand for plywood on the decline as OSB begins to dominate the market. In the long term, that could help prevent deforestation and will keep down the cost of building materials.

OSB uses younger trees than traditional lumber or plywood. The pines, spruces, and firs used in other building products must be much older before harvesting. Some OSB manufacturers are taking additional steps to maximize the environmental advantages. To ensure the sustainability of its manufacturing practices, LP uses SFI®-certified wood from well-managed forests. Additionally, LP uses only low-emitting resins with reduced formaldehyde in its OSB product lines. That’s why all of LP’s OSB products are exempt from CARB, the nation’s strictest formaldehyde emissions standards.

Thanks to technological innovations by LP and other manufacturers, OSB is increasingly used in engineered components, including I-Joists, floor trusses, stressed skin panels, and structural core panels, as well as in crating, pallets, bins, furniture frames, display racks, and store fixtures.

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