Number 26 - October 2012


The effects of mid-rise construction on wood finishing materials

The code acceptance for more mid-rise wood frame construction has a direct and measurable effect on the use of structural wood materials. However, the effect on the use of non-structural wood products as flooring, mouldings and doors is less clear. With interest in mid-rise construction growing across Canada and the US, FPInnovations attempted to quantify the effect of more wood mid-rise construction on the specification of these non-structural wood materials. By analyzing past finished wood products use in wood-frame and concrete buildings in Canada and the US, an early picture of what the market potential for higher value wood products emerges.

The move to wood-frame construction produces a mixed set of results for wood finishing materials in both Canada and the US. In some applications wood products gain volume while in others they lose. Interestingly, the pattern of gains and losses differs significantly between Canada and the US. In fact, of the twelve application categories, Canada and the US trended in opposite directions in seven. This is largely explained by the different role multi-family construction plays in the two countries.

The multifamily construction market in Canada and the US differ significantly on their intended usage. In Canada a strong majority of multifamily homes are built for owner occupation. While multi-family is often more economical, the choice to own a multifamily home is just as likely to be driven by densification, demographics, and lifestyle. This is the reason that multifamily starts now make up half of the market. On the other hand, detached housing is the strong consumer preference in the US. Multifamily starts are a small proportion of the market and most of them are built for rent. Within this rental space wood-frame construction is the most cost effective structural building method. It only follows that finishing materials be low cost and long lasting in these buildings as well.

The divergent nature of multifamily construction in Canada and the US drives different material usage in the scenario presented in this study. The applications with the most striking differences are in exterior applications. In the shift to wood-frame construction wood exterior trim, siding, and windows gained significantly in Canada while retracting in the US. These premium wood features are strong architectural details that help sell condominiums to homeowners. From a rental perspective they carry not only a monetary premium, but a maintenance premium as well. For this reason, wood exterior products are chosen less often for wood-frame rental buildings.

With respect to opportunities in Canada, exterior finishing products appear to have the most to gain from the move to wood-frame construction. However, there are opportunities even in net loss categories. For example, wood-based closet and passage doors lost total volume in the move to wood-frame buildings. However, what is hidden in the details is a slight move to more solid wood and solid-core cores and less hollow-core. Solid closet and passage doors are a relatively unexplored opportunity to upgrade materials in multifamily and single-family construction in Canada.

Wood exterior doors are virtually non-existent in condominiums in Canada. However, the move to wood–frame construction saw steel doors replaced with fibreglass, a premium product often finished to look like wood. This points to the potential for a fire-rated wood entry door with good damage resistance. Indeed, wood entry doors already have moderate market penetration in non-wood frame buildings in the US.

While this analysis provides mixed results for the use of wood in finishing mid-rise wood buildings it must be noted that it is based on past construction of wood-frame and concrete buildings. As the market develops it is expected that savvy marketers and product designers will modify their wood product mixes to better fit the emerging mid-rise category. This will require a deeper understanding of the intended use and ownership that developers target mid-rise construction at.

A 30 minute webinar that features the key points of this study will be held on November 21st ( English), and November 22nd (French).

> Register for this free event

For more information on this topic, contact Dave Fell at (604) 222-5682.








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