New Zealand’s timber shortage: help is here

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Red Stag group chief executive Marty Verry.

In the wake of the recent hubbub over timber distribution, Red Stag group chief executive Marty Verry got plenty of great publicity, capping it off by announcing the opening of a new wood processing plant in Rotorua.

Verry says the plant will add 5% to the capacity of the New Zealand wood processing sector. That equates to around 2000 dwelling units, or most of the estimated shortfall in current timber supply.

The factory will produce Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), the new “mass timber” construction product being adopted rapidly worldwide.

CLT is made by gluing successive layers of timber laid crossways over the layer below, to form large panels of three, five or seven layers of timber thick.

The rigid engineered timber panels are then precision cut by CNC machines in a factory and rapidly assembled on site.

In Red Stag’s case, the CLT panels can exceed 16 metres by four metres in size, making for very fast construction and few connections.

Kaianga Ora is a major user in New Zealand, and use internationally is widespread. Google recently broke ground on its first mass timber building in Silicon Valley using CLT.

“We’re going to bring forward the opening to May to help the timber shortage,” Verry says.

Costing $50 million, the CLT factory is co-located with the Southern Hemisphere’s largest sawmill, Red Stag, in Rotorua.

It will employ 40 people initially, rising to double that over time, and is part-funded by a $15 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Verry pushed the idea that he doesn’t expect all of the CLT factory’s capacity to be used in residential units though, as there is already a waiting list of other projects planning to use it, including retirement villages, student accommodation, office buildings, educational facilities and cultural buildings.

“CLT has a value sweet spot in large-format structures, buildings of three storeys or more, and for mid-floors in terraced housing built to the NZS 3604 standard,” Verry says.

“Apartment buildings and fast-to-install CLT mid-floors will be our residential focus areas.”

Supply of flooring materials such as joists, I-beams and flooring panels has had supply problems in recent months, and Verry expects the building community will be quick to take up CLT mid-floors, which drop into place to provide a finished platform to construct the next level on without delay.

Meanwhile, the CLT factory’s sister company, Red Stag Timber, is also helping with the timber shortage.

The country’s largest sawmill, supplying around 25% of New Zealand’s needs, is pulling back uncommitted supply from export markets and squeezing out more hours and capacity to help keep its ITM, PlaceMakers, Mitre 10 and independent clients.

“We plan to bring forward further expansion of both the mill and CLT factory on the back of Carter Holt Harvey’s decision to stop supply to key merchant chains,” Verry adds.

“There are many in the industry that will want to source from an independently-owned supply chain, rather than relying on product from a competing merchant chain.”

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