Washington state lawmakers boost mass timber and rural communities

Rural communities and forest landowners received a big boost from the Washington Legislature this session with the passage of legislation that will lead to an increase in the use of mass timber products in commercial and residential construction.

Mass timber products like cross-laminated timber (CLT) have been on the upswing in Washington in recent years. Last year, Vaagen Brothers Lumber of Colville. Wash., and Katerra, a California company, each announced they were building CLT factories in Eastern Washington, and CLT is increasingly being used in buildings around the state.

However, one impediment to the wider use of mass timber products in construction has been that building codes have not been updated to account for the new building materials. Senate Bill 5450, passed overwhelmingly 45-2 in the Senate and 91-6 in the House, rectifies this, directing the Washington State Building Code Council to adopt rules allowing for the use of mass timber in construction.

Including mass timber in the state building code will make it easier for developers to use CLT and other mass timber products by adding certainty to the permitting process, said Jason Callahan, Director of Governmental Relations for the Washington Protection Association.

“State lawmakers are paving the way for more buildings in Washington to be constructed with mass timber products that have a lower carbon footprint and use less energy and water than other building materials,” Callahan said. “Cross-laminated timber, for example, is strong, fire-resistant and because the CLT panels are prefabricated, it’s fast and simple to install.”

The prime sponsor of SB 5450 was Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, with other key contributions from Sens. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby.

“Mass timber is already being used in countries around the world to construct sustainable, ecologically sound buildings,” said Liias. “Putting people first means taking every step possible to build a greener, more inclusive economy for every Washingtonian.”

“Creating a pathway for greater use of mass timber in Washington embraces our greatest natural resource while bolstering a crucial industry for rural economies,” said Takko. “Timber has long provided family wage jobs in communities across the Evergreen State and I’m proud that the Legislature took action this year to keep that tradition strong.”

More certainty in the permitting process will mean more building projects using mass timber, which in turn will lead to more mass timber production facilities, more demand for timber from sustainably managed forests and more jobs in the rural communities where the forests and production facilities are located.

SB 5450 is the latest move by the Legislature to increase the use of mass timber products. In 2016, state lawmakers allocated $5.5 million for the construction of new classrooms around the state using CLT. The 20 classrooms for kindergarten through third grade are being built in the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish public school districts.

Learn more about CLT and other mass timber products.

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