If Kyle Hanson is right, three to five years down the road, a small-scale lumber industry will be enjoying a renaissance in Southwest Colorado, aided by the pioneering efforts of his firm Timber Age Systems.
His idea is to introduce cross-laminated timber made from beetle-killed ponderosa pine from the San Juan National Forest as a prime material in homebuilding in Southwest Colorado and throughout the Four Corners.
If he’s right, Hanson said use of cross-laminated timber – which was introduced in Europe and has been used for three decades primarily in commercial construction as a replacement for concrete and steel – will have several helpful attributes to the local economy and the environment:
It will produce a market for thousands of acres of bark beetle-killed ponderosa pine in Southwest Colorado – helping to reduce hazardous fuels build up.It will create a supply of wood for a renaissance in the small lumber industry in Southwest Colorado that could employ dozens, if not hundreds, of workers – helping to diversify a job market increasingly overdependent on tourism-industry jobs.
It will provide a local source of wood to homebuilders – helping to reduce the need to transport wood from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, thereby reducing the carbon footprint in local home building.
“The gist of the project is to address forest health along with the intersection of other regional issues – increasing the availability of locally skilled labor and helping alleviate the high cost of homebuilding,” Hanson said. “I see Timber Age at the intersection of those three big regional issues.”
Timber Age Systems has received a $243,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to show proof of concept of the viability of introducing cross-laminated timber from ponderosa pine.
The area is on the verge of having a large supply of beetle-killed ponderosa pine as wood becomes available from the Lone Pine Vegetation Management Project, an effort in the Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest to increase the health of the forest on 62,000 acres between Dolores and Dove Creek by reducing stand density and salvaging dead and dying ponderosa pine attacked by bark beetles.
The Forest Service is proposing to introduce a variety of timber sales to treat between 1,000 to 6,000 acres annually in the Lone Pine project by thinning green trees in overdense, unhealthy areas and to salvage beetle-killed ponderosa.
Montrose Forest Products, Hanson said, will likely claim most of the 10-inch and greater diameter ponderosa pine from the Lone Pine Vegetation Management Project, but Hanson said a large amount of smaller-diameter ponderosa pine from 5 inches to 10 inches will be available for Timber Age to use to manufacture its cross-laminated timber.
Cross-laminated timber is a form of manufactured wood panels made by gluing three layers of wood, with the layers oriented perpendicular to adjacent layers, like plywood, to increase structural rigidity. It would be used to replace dimensional lumber in framing homes.
Timber Age will use the U.S. Forest Service grant to build the first cross-laminated timber structure in Southwest Colorado as proof of concept of the material’s applicability to regional homebuilding.
Hanson plans to build a multigenerational house of about 4,000 square feet for his family, his parents and his mother-in-law off Wildcat Canyon Road (Colorado Highway 141).
“All the case studies in the world won’t substitute for something that’s been regionally validated,” Hanson said.
Ultimately, Hanson would like to prove through his house that using the material can compete with the current $285-per-square-foot cost of building a conventionally framed house in La Plata County.
Timber Age Systems would pass on lessons learned in building the Hansons’ home to other interested homebuilders.
The goal of Timber Age is not to compete with other homebuilders but to serve as the vehicle to introduce cross-laminated timber into the array of construction practices used by local homebuilders and to pass on lessons learned through its initial proof of concept building.
Cross-laminated timber has been used for decades in larger commercial buildings, Hanson said, and one reason for picking a large, multigenerational home as the first cross-laminated timber structure in Southwest Colorado is to take advantage of already-proven building processes.
“We don’t know how small (cross-laminated timber) construction can be viable and a large home seemed a good place to start. You want to show the least amount of money possible to manufacture with good quality and competitive pricing to current practices,” Hanson said.
Hanson is convinced cross-laminated timber will be key in addressing the local problem of beetle-killed ponderosa pine, while at the same time infusing new vitality in a local lumber industry and also working to lower the construction costs in the regional housing industry.
“If we get the right group of people together, we have the expertise and the passion right here in Southwest Colorado to make the situation better,” he said.