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Promoting  the use of Georgia's Super-crop Statewide

There is no doubt that the age of sustainable forestry and improved forestry practices have made wood Georgia's super-crop. However, it is interesting to think that most Georgia residents have no idea how much impact forestry has on the state's economy, much less the money it could be saving them in tax dollars. 

According to the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), in 2010 Georgia had approximately 24.4 million acres of timberland which is the second highest in the nation next to Oregon. The forest industry in Georgia also produced $16.9 billion in total revenue and provided 48,519 total jobs. Furthermore, in 2009, the total economic impact of the forest industry in Georgia was approximately 27.2 billion. 

With forestry contributing to a large part of the economy in Georgia, it would be safe to assume that wood products would be implemented in every possible building project. However, there are a few situations where wood could be implemented in government projects to save tax dollars, but years of steel archetectural practices and state legislation have prevented it from being used. 

Most everyone has seen the large steel and concrete sound barriers on the side of Georgia's interstates that prevent a large amount of sound disturbance in residential neighborhoods. Hoover Treated Wood Products has developed a similar product, PLYWALL, that is extremely competitive with these structures, however, it has never been utilized by Georgia DOT. 

PLYWALL sound barriers, which can be built up to 30 feet high and withstand up to 60 psf, are prefabricated, treated wood panels supported between Parallam (PSL) posts. According to Hoover, 100 percent of the panel and 80 percent of the posts are constructed with wood from Georgia. Properly designed, treated and fabricated wood products have been proven to be far superior to steel and concrete barriers when considering acoustic performance, longevity, cost of instillation and cost of repair. Hoover even offers a 25-year warranty on every project which is comparable to a typical 1-year warranty on from steel and concrete manufacturers. The product also decreases carbon emissions and reduces the depletion of natural resources since wood is a renewable resource.

To consider cost of production, a wood sound barrier that is one mile long and 14 feet high is approximately half the cost of concrete and steel structures. In one instance, Hoover was able to prefabricate PLYWALL out of Georgia wood on the east coast and ship it to San Diego, California, while out-bidding steel and concrete manufacturers with shipping cost included. However, even though there are no federal or state restrictions, the use of wood in DOT sound barrier projects in Georgia remains open. 

"The homegrown aspect of Georgia wood has not been translated well beyond the wood industry itself," George Young, Marketing VP at Hoover, said. "We need to do a better job of explaining the benefits to those not directly involved in the wood industry because every Georgia resident benefits in one way or another from wood products, whether from the environmental benefits, economic contributions or recreational activities." 

It may seem like common sense to most Georgia taxpayers that using wood sound barriers instead of a more expensive steel barrier would be more economically efficient, however, when it comes to using wood instead of steel in the framing of school facilities, there is a stronger debate. 

Currently, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Ohio are the only states that have not accepted the International Building Code that readily allows the use of dimensional wood in the framing of K-12 grade schools mostly due to the fear of a more flammable building. Recently, some states, such as Arkansas have adopted or changed its school facilities manual to allow the use of wood and have discovered that it has saved the state a substantial amount of money in construction costs. 

For instance, in 2009, the Fountain Springs Lake School District in Hot Springs, Ark, set out to renovate an existing high school and build a new middle school. According to WoodWorks for Non-Residential Construction, initial estimates for masonry and steel structures in both buildings started at $150 per square foot incuding fees from site construction and engineering which was over the district budget. Later, the design team switched to wood framing and brought the total cost down to $107 per square foot which saved the school district a total of $2.7 million on both projects. 

In the case of the safety of wood framed school buildings, wood has proven to be superior to steel beams in controlled fire tests due to the charring or slow burning of heavy structural timbers which allows occupants more time to exit the building safely. Also, while building materials do play a large part in the structural intergrity of a building on fire, the real determinants of occupant safety come from the sprinkler system and eqress or exit strategy of the building. 

The benefits of using wood in the construction of schools are numerous. Some short term effects of wood construction, other than cost benefits, includeease of construction, readily available wood products, and a large pool of qualified archetects. 

Scott Lockyear, Senior Technical Director of School Construction at WoodWorks commented on the effectiveness of wood use in school construction. 

"Wood offers a variety of benefits in addition to cost effectiveness, including versatility, design flexibility, environmental performance and a low carbon footprint," Lockyear said. " Furthermore, archetects that we have spoken with also cite the desire to create a warm and enriching learning environment as a reason for their use of wood in schools." 

WoodWorks is currently working alongside like minded organizations such as the American Wood Council and APA - the Engineered Wood Association, to increase awareness of the effectiveness and safety of wood framing in school buildings across the country. 

As for Georgia, there will constantly be debate as to whether or not wood is a stronger substance to be used in building projects such as DOT sound barriers and school facilites, however, ther is no doubt that in these situations wood is more economically efficient than steel and concrete. Hopefully, promoting Georgia wood products as safe, sustainable and economical building material will allow for uses of wood in situations like these while developing a pride in forestry as a super-crop among Georgia residents.    

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