Straighter, Stronger, Longer

Far more residential framing materials exist today than existed five or 10 years ago. These materials are designed to ensure homes remain strong and stable for decades to come, and are built in ways that produce the least possible amount of waste. Engineered wood has much to do with changing the framing game, but nonwood products are having their impact, too.

In a struggling housing market it makes sense to eliminate waste, maximize time and watch expenses. Manufacturers of residential framing materials are responding to this need as they continue to develop better, more useful and cost-effective products.

Take Simpson Strong-Tie, for example, whose prefabricated shear wall called Strong Wall provides architects and builders with an advantage by controlling materials and manufacturing. The Strong Wall is designed to pack concentrated strength into walls with multiple or large openings such as on either side of a garage door.

“On the west people probably are designing to seismic needs, and on the Gulf Coast they’re designing to wind loads. In a wall where you need to design to specific shear, you can use the Strong Wall to achieve it in a smaller area.

And it’s prefabbed so you know the materials, nails and bolts are put in right,” says Tom McClain, product manager, Simpson Strong-Tie.

“This is a great product where you want strength in limited space. And for architects and designers, it opens up possibilities by giving them more flexibility,” he adds.

Another steel framing product designed to deliver structural strength and design flexibility is the LiteSteel Beam from LiteSteel Technologies. Applied properly, the cold-formed steel beam can help architects realize their vision, says Jeff Hoffman, vice president, business development, LiteSteel Technologies America. “In a custom home which might require deep and heavy sections of engineered wood, the LiteSteel Beam can perform the same function in a smaller section and a smaller span. Architects also like the look of the product, which fuels the imagination,” he says.

“Additionally, architects are more sensitive to the needs of builders and homeowners in terms of costs, which is another area this product offers solutions. When the market was booming three years ago, if you told a builder you could save him money on basement beams, he’d tell you to go away. But now if you say you can save time and money, they want to chat,” Hoffman explains.

Brookstone Homes in Oconomowoc, Wis., is building homes with sensitive price points, and is using LSB for basement beams. “LSB is delivered with the framing package, so there’s no delay in getting it from the steel fabricator.

Second, Brookstone is dealing with a guy he already likes in the pro dealer, Bliffert Lumber, who is the builder’s partner. They trust those guys to get what they need. Then you have the weight savings compared to engineered wood or a steel W beam, and you can save 40 percent of the weight. LSB can be hand-set and not require $175 for a crane to set the beam for you. That’s time and money savings,” Hoffman says.

One more advantage is the ability to work LSB like wood using standard power tools with steel-cutting blades.

Engineered Lumber

Engineered lumber, like LiteSteel Beam and the Strong Wall might cost more but they deliver many advantages compared to standard framing lumber. Longer spans, straighter lines and enduring stability are a few reasons to consider engineered lumber. The recession is another.

“This period of downsizing in housing supply and consumption has allowed the opportunity for builders in particular to make a closer review of what they are using, and to try and set themselves apart,” says Robert Fouquet, vice president, sales and marketing, Ainsworth Engineered. “When we were at 2 million starts, there was no time for soul searching. Builders were not focusing on what else to use, and now some of their favorite product lines suddenly are not available.”

Ainsworth’s 0.8e Durastrand Rimboard has the flexibility to be used in multiple applications, not just as rimboard. Its rating allows it to be used as a short-span door header and be subjected to bending loads, and also can be used as a stair stringer.

Durastrand Rimboard comes in lengths up to 24 ft. for general rimboard applications, and for short-span headers lengths are up to 9 ft. “For a certain load, specific site or condition, our online design guide will indicate what to use or what the span capability is,” Fouquet says.

When a truss is what’s needed, the Open Joist all-wood trimmable floor truss from Universal Forest Products can be used in multi- and single-family applications. The all-wood nature of Open Joist makes it easy to use, says Dennis Sill, regional director of sales, Universal Forest Products. “Open Joist can be trimmed unlike a plated floor truss. Adjustments to a plated truss are difficult to make on the fly in the field because of the nail plates that hold the wood together. Ours is held together with finger joints,” Sill says.

The truss comes in 1-ft. increments, and can be trimmed in the field up to 5 1/2-in. on each end, which makes it practical when foundations are not square or if a change in design is made in the field. “Finger joints provide benefits such as superior strength; it cuts down on cost and also helps with the fire rating. It won’t destruct as quickly in a fire as a plated truss,” Sill says. Open Joist comes in lengths up to 30 ft.

An advantage of the open web design is the ability to easily run wire, ducts and pipes through it. “It also saves money in terms of not having to do drop ceilings. There’s a cost to dropping plumbing or electrical under a floor, so to be able to put it up inside the truss makes it quicker, less expensive and cleaner for everyone,” he says. Architects might like Open Joist for the ability it provides to run longer spans and expand center spacing from 16 in. to 19.2 in.

The Building Shell

Georgia-Pacific offers a sheathing product called Nautilus which includes a pre-laminated weather barrier. “Homes today are framed, then the next step is OSB goes over the framing, then a weather-resistant barrier is manually attached over the OSB,” explains Barry Reid, product development manager, Georgia-Pacific. “Nautilus, however, features a weather barrier prelaminated to the OSB to provide the best protection against air and moisture infiltration into the building envelope and wall cavity.

“When framing with Nautilus with preapplied weather barrier you have tremendous air and moisture resistance, creating a wall with a high R value. Nautilus’ barrier can be pulled back and reapplied, which is important because the pushback from a building science perspective has been the inability to protect a window opening because of preapplied weather barrier that cannot be pulled back and reapplied,” Reid says.

Moisture infiltration is a serious problem, and so is warped framing lumber. This is why Weyerhaeuser launched its Pro Series late in 2009. The intention of the Pro Series is to reduce the hassle people have with imperfect lumber, says Neal Shunk, lumber product manager. “The Pro Series is screened to remove boards that will warp. It’s complicated how we do it, but there are properties we scan for that identify how the board will behave in the long-term. Pro Series lumber also includes a mold inhibitor and is marked with an SFI label.

The Pro Series represents the elimination of time and material waste, Shunk says. “Without this technology, someone at the dealer would be going through each board, pulling out boards that have developed warp. Then we’ve eliminated a second level of sorting that goes on at the jobsite, which results in more material ending up in landfills.”

Why a strong focus on straightness? Customer surveys consistently reveal that board straightness is a major issue, says Steve Harms, lumber product manager. “And this is across all market segments, so it’s a big deal. Straightness is constantly an issue we bump up against,” he says.

The Pro Series is ideal for creating a level floor, while walls represent another place where Weyerhaeuser sees tremendous market for straight lumber, Shunk says. “As boards cure, you can see them twisting and crowning, and builders are going to pull problem pieces. Our product represents a significant amount of time and labor savings not having to pull out the bad apples.”

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