MSU received $247K U.S. Forest Service grant to develop tool for cross-laminated timber in commercial building construction

The MSU Construction Management program was selected by the U.S. Forest Service to develop a construction time and cost estimating tool for use of CLT in commercial building construction.

This photo shows the T3 Building in Minneapolis was constructed using cross-laminated timber, or CLT.
The T3 Building in Minneapolis was constructed using cross-laminated timber, or CLT. Photo courtesy of Ema Peter Photography.

The Michigan State University Construction Management program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) was selected by the U.S. Forest Service to develop a construction time and cost estimating tool for use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in commercial building construction.

“Mass timber has been a relatively niche construction material in the U.S.; however, we have seen expanded use of these materials in domestic projects over the past five years,” said George Berghorn, assistant professor of construction management, also adjunct assistant professor of forestry.

This multi-year grant raises awareness and encourages adoption of mass timber buildings among the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

More than a third of U.S. architects were uncertain about the initial and life cycle costs of using CLT, according to an article from the Journal of Cleaner Production. MSU is positioned to provide research and construction cost estimating tools that can make CLT more viable in the AEC industry.

Michigan State was awarded a $247K grant for this project that runs from 2018-2021. The main objective of this project is to expand wood products markets by addressing this significant AEC industry barrier and, as a result, encourage more designers and constructors to specify CLT in their buildings.

“The recent approval of 14 mass timber proposals as part of the 2021 International Building Code approval process, which will allow mass timber buildings of up to 18 stories, represents a pivot point for our industry. Code change impacts the nation as it dictates what can and cannot be built,” said Berghorn.

“This is especially important for MSU, because we are on the leading edge of this change, and we are one of a handful of universities in the U.S. currently engaging in research and outreach activities in this area,” he continued.

This project continues the work that Berghorn began in 2016 under a U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovations grant sub-awarded through Renewable Resource Solutions, LLC in Crystal Falls, Mich. That project focused on understanding barriers to the greater adoption of mass timber construction in the domestic AEC industry, and led to development of a mass timber building cost estimating framework.

The MSU team supported by U.S. Forest Service funding and led by Berghorn also includes:

  • Pascal Nzokou, associate professor of forest biomaterials and agroforestry, MSU Department of Forestry;
  • Lauren Cooper, program director, Forest Carbon and Climate program, MSU Department of Forestry; and
  • Bhushan Nankar, graduate research assistant, MSU Construction Management program, SPDC.

“It is exciting to be a part of a multidisciplinary forestry and construction management team, which adds a unique element to the work we are doing at MSU,” Berghorn said.

The team will develop a web-based predictive cost and time tool. Such tools are commonly used during the conceptual design stage of a building project to help estimate materials like steel and concrete. Little predictive cost and time information currently exists for CLT, making it difficult to easily draw those estimates for construction companies.

The team will also develop up to 20 CLT building case studies, with a focus on first construction costs, life cycle costs (building maintenance, energy and carbon), construction time and green building certification. Some examples for the case studies include the MSU STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, currently under construction on campus.

The Green Building Certification Institute and the American Institute of Architects will use these case studies in three continuing education courses for designers and constructors across the country.

These training modules will be offered at MSU and nationally in online and face-to-face classes focusing on analyzing time and life cycle cost performance. The team anticipates reaching more than 300 AEC industry professionals via these courses.

The tool and case studies will also be available online in a new informational msu.edu website as part of this project and the grant deliverables.

Michigan State will also sponsor a CLT construction management competition in the 2020-2021 school year to help raise awareness among students about CLT and its growing opportunities in the construction industry. It is expected that the competition will attract up to 75 four-year and two-year students from universities and community colleges across the U.S.

For more information about this project, please contact George Berghorn at berghorn@msu.edu.


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