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Naturally Better

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Naturally Better

Sometimes it seems as if tradition trumps logic in the building trades. Innovations are often surprisingly slow to catch on, even when they offer obvious advantages.

One can understand cautious builders taking a “wait and see” approach to using new materials or construction techniques. But builders may not understand that being overly cautious can cost them time and money—and may ultimately reduce the quality and durability of the homes they build.

Most builders are more than familiar with the frustrations of conventional wood. From flaws like knots and splits and performance issues like cupping, warping and shrinking to supply issues like unpredictable prices and the limited availability of longer lengths, traditional lumber has always come with more than its share of headaches.

These shortcomings can create real problems in key areas such as roof and floor support, wall framing, rim board, door and window headers, stair stringers and truss chords. Strength, length, straightness and consistency are essential in these applications, but they are the very characteristics that traditional lumber often lacks.

The consequences are wide ranging. Architects and designers must limit their concepts due to materials-based restrictions on floor, ceiling and roof sizes. Building crews spend hours culling lumber on the job site, with large amounts of material going to waste. Still more time is spent nailing pieces of lumber together to “build up” beams with the required strength for door, window and garage door headers. And then there’s every builder’s nightmare: callbacks. Walls that bow, twist, or warp can cause kitchen cabinets and countertops to gap and separate from a wall and bath tiles to crack, infuriating homeowners, in no small part because tile and cabinets are big-ticket items. Add up the time and money lost to these issues, and you’ve got the hidden cost of using traditional lumber. It’s a cost that can wreak havoc on your bottom line.

There is an engineered wood product that reduces the drawbacks of conventional framing lumber. It’s Laminated Strand Lumber, also known as LSL.

Today’s top LSL products, such as LP SolidStart LSL, are created from a mixture of aspen and maple hardwoods, which are chosen for their superior strength. The raw logs are debarked, cut into strands and blended with precise amounts of waterproof, formaldehyde-free adhesives. The blended wood strands are formed into dense mats. A massive steam press then uses steam and pressure to convert the mats into panels. Panels are cut and tested before receiving a protective edge-seal.

Because moisture levels are carefully controlled throughout the manufacturing process, LSL has a 7%–10% moisture content. That’s similar to the naturally occurring moisture equilibrium inside a home, which helps eliminate twisting, shrinking, warping and bowing.

The wood used to create LP SolidStart LSL is obtained using SFI® certified procurement systems that promote sustainable forest management. And every bit of the log is used, either in the product or as a fuel source. These factors also give LSL built-in environmental benefits.

Available in a wide range of depths, thicknesses, lengths and grades, LSL is consistently straight and true. Use it where you would use traditional lumber—but don’t worry about  common flaws like knots and splits. What’s more, LSL offers load-bearing capacities that traditional lumber can’t match. The strongest on the market is LP SolidStart LSL, which is rated up to 1.75E. That makes it the ideal framing material for areas in which strength and precision are vital.

LSL products can greatly reduce the need to build up beams and headers. And they offer ample support for cabinets and tiled walls. Because it’s so strong and offered in such a variety of widths and lengths, LSL also provides tremendous design flexibility. Architects and designers can create larger rooms, knowing they are no longer held back by the limitations of spans assembled with traditional lumber.

Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) is another material engineered for performance and durability.  LVL is manufactured from ultrasonically graded veneers bonded with exterior-grade adhesives. With strengths as high as 1.9E and 2.0E, LVL is even stronger than LSL. But as you might expect, LVL also commands a higher price than LSL. Since LSL is more than strong enough for most uses, the superior strength of LVL is often unnecessary and amounts to over-engineering.

Given today’s fiercely competitive market, smart builders are value engineering by replacing LVL with LSL whenever possible. And that may be more often than you think.

The engineering staff at LP Building Products recently conducted a study of support beam materials, reviewing more than 1,740 real-world floor beam calculations from their files. Ultimately, they determined that 1.75E LSL could have replaced 1.9E LVL in 95% of the applications. That’s size-for-size replacement in 9-1/2˝, 11-7/8˝ and 14˝ floor beams, 95% of the time.

How much can you save by using LSL instead of LVL? Allan Burk, National Market Development Manager at LP Building Products, cites this example: “Let’s say your average floor package costs $3,000 and 20% of the floor package is LVL. As the builder, you could expect to save about $60 per floor by switching out to LSL. That’s based on LSL going for 10% less than the cost of LVL.” Of course, savings will vary by the market and the types of houses built. “Working with your supplier to compare specific house plans will give you a more precise comparison,” Burk says.

A large production builder recently discovered that they could replace LVL with LSL size-for-size in all but five of their floor plans, saving from $100 to $300 per new home, in instances where LSL goes for 10% less than the cost of LVL. In addition, LSL may be a money-saving replacement for glulam and PSL (Parallel Strand Lumber) products as well.

Although LSL products are less expensive than others, LP SolidStart LSL is  still backed by a Lifetime Limited Warranty. “It’s a measure of our great confidence in the quality of our LSL products,” said Allan Burk. “They really are an example of getting more for less.”These days, every builder is looking for ways to cut costs without cutting quality. LSL offers a cure for the costly headaches of traditional framing lumber and the high cost of over-engineering with LVL. That’s the kind of support we all could use.

For more information about LSL, visit here.

This information and the websites identified above are provided solely as a convenience to the reader. They are not intended to state or imply that the editors of Engineered Wood or LP Building Products sponsor, recommend, endorse or are affiliated or associated with the companies or products listed.