Author Archives: Tonia

Impact of Water and Climate When Talking About CLT

Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) is the trendy new building material that has received a lot of attention in the northwest this year.  It is by definition a series of thick boards (usually 2×4 or 2×6) glued together in an alternating pattern and Cross-to form a solid wall, post or beam. (A similar concept is glue laminated (glue lam) timber that has been used for beam construction for many years.)

To understand how water affects wood construction, one must understand its function in a tree. Wood is designed to provide structural support for the tree, move water from roots to leaves and store the chemical results of photosynthesis (primarily sugars in the form of cellulose). These properties of wood create some challenges for its longevity when exposed to moisture.  Thus, while wood can be structurally strong, it naturally absorbs and retains water.

Depending on climatic conditions, it can take some time for CLT panels to fully dry after getting wet. So, moisture control is of utmost importance when building from wood, such as cross-laminated timber.

The first source of moisture concern is during manufacturing. While manufacturers try to have all of their boards have the same moisture content, wood is an organic material and each board reacts to moisture differently. Some take water in more quickly and some take longer to dry. The result is that boards swell and shrink at differing rates which can affect the performance of a CLT panel.

Think of the hardwood floors in older buildings where the floor buckles in places. That is what happens when one board expands against another. As the wood dries again, it shrinks. This expansion and contraction process can damage the wood causing new cracks and gaps. On a floor, one can just refinish it. But, CLT is an integrated structural component and any deformity can weaken its life-safety purposes.

Another source of moisture is environmental moisture during construction. Studies indicate that construction moisture wetting is a serious problem in rainy climates like the Pacific Northwest. It can take several years for the wood to fully dry after construction. With rainfall likely in any month of the year, it is vital that proper precautions be taken to prevent the wood from getting and staying wet.

It is not just rainfall that is a concern. Other sources of moisture must also be accounted for, such as sprinklers, groundwater, pressure washing of siding, sidewalks, driveways, etc. decorative ponds, swimming pools, or other sources of moisture.

Wet CLT panels built with wrappings that do not allow vapor to pass through (both interior and exterior) are much more likely to develop bio-deterioration. There are vapor permeable wrapping on the market that can mitigate this concern to some extent.

Exterior cladding also plays a significant role in preventing moisture penetration. Not long ago, there were significant problems with wood frame buildings experience the negative effects of prolonged moisture, especially condominiums. The resulting lawsuits bankrupted many developers and contractors. With CLT, the stakes are even higher. With wood frame, the walls can be exposed, dried and cleaned. Since CLT is a structural system, that process is much more difficult and expensive.

In comparison, concrete, masonry and block all dry very quickly when wetted. Any remaining moisture can be removed easily (similar to using your shop-vac and a floor-squeegee in your garage after a big rain). Thus, construction moisture is of much less concern. And, there is no concern with rot with concrete, masonry and block construction.

One solution is to cover the CLT panels during construction until they are clad with the exterior components (be it siding, brick or stone). This is complicated, expensive and time consuming. Thus, covering panels during construction can undermine the presumed time and cost savings of CLT construction.

Another possible solution is to install water and air barrier membranes when the panels are manufactured. To date, no manufacturer is doing this, presumably because it would be cost prohibitive.

Certainly, more research needs to be done before the public can be assured of the safety and environmental impacts of cross-laminated timber panels used in construction. Also, new additional building code standards and construction practices would need to be developed to mitigate the health, life-safety and structural concerns posed by our wet climate on CLT buildings.  Current building codes allow wood structures to be built up to five stories. The talk is some would like to go up to as many as 20 stories with CLT.

The risk of fire in a wood building has historically been the primary concern with high-rise wood construction, but, water and climatic conditions can have an equally and perhaps more insidious impact on the construction.

CLT may have the potential to be a sustainable building product that lowers the carbon impact of building.  But so do proven products like concrete, steel and masonry.

While fire is an immediate and known risk, water’s impact is subtler, but no less threatening. This is particularly true in the Northwest from the Pacific Coast to the Cascades.

Huge apartment fire blamed on maintenance and light-weight wood



(This is the second fire at this complex since 2000 – while the project was under construction.)

EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Maintenance workers fixing a leak and using a torch is what started the massive fire at an Edgewater, N.J., apartment complex fire, officials said Thursday night.

As 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported, Edgewater police Chief William Skidmore said at a news conference the workers were using a blow-torch to make repairs to a leak at the Avalon at Edgewater complex, when a plumber accidentally ignited the fire in a wall.

Skidmore said the workers tried to put it out themselves and delayed calling for help for about 15 minutes. It is unclear how many workers were involved or where exactly the work was being done.

“They tried to suppress it themselves, and then they called their supervisor, which gave the fire a head start,” Skidmore said.

Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said the delay in calling 911 put his crews at a disadvantage, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.

“It takes four minutes for a room to be fully engulfed and flash over so 15 minutes can make a big difference,” Jacobson said.

Officials also said Thursday a lightweight wood construction contributed to the fire, leaving hundreds of residents permanently displaced.

Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland said a local state of emergency remains in effect due to the fire at The Avalon at Edgewater, which broke out around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and raged for hours.

“It was a long and challenging night and I think every one of our first responders really stepped up to the challenge,” McPartland said.

McPartland said it was because of the good work of all the first responders that no lives were lost.

“I mean, I saw four brave men go into that fire and pull a woman out while the façade was coming down virtually on top of them,” he said.

The fire was brought under control by Thursday morning, but crews were still putting out hot spots and heavy smoke could be seen billowing from the structure even in the evening.

Jacobson said the fire appears to have started on the first floor and quickly spread through the floors and walls because of the building’s lightweight wood construction.

“If it was made out of concrete and cinder block, we wouldn’t have this problem,” he said, adding the building complied with construction codes.

Jacobson said the sprinklers were working and went off, but they were no match for these flames.

“It doesn’t get every area,” he said. “It gets the common areas where you can egress and get out. It gets your apartment. All the little voids inside every nook and cranny in the walls? No.”

Jacobson said crews simultaneously battled the fire while doing door-to-door searches and pulling people from the balconies.

“We had a crew trapped on the balcony with a victim; we had to rescue them with ground ladders from the back of the building. That was my concern first, not the building,” he said.

Firefighters from across New Jersey and from the FDNY helped battle the blaze. It was raised to more than five alarms Wednesday night and grew so large that the flames were visible from Midtown Manhattan.

As CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported, the Bergen County Arson Squad investigated where and how the fire started, even though it later turned out to be accidental.

“A fire of this magnitude is an automatic response for the arson squad,” Skidmore said.

Schools were closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday. McPartland said access to some roads around the building would be restricted.

In all, 240 units were destroyed, permanently displacing about 500 residents, McPartland said. An additional 520 residents from other Avalon buildings have also been displaced, McPartland said.

“Don’t know where to even start,” resident Seoung Ju Won told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.

“It was like a volcano eruption, really,” said resident Angela Nyagu. “That’s what I watched on TV before, how volcanoes erupt. Now I witnessed that myself.”

Among the residents of the complex was Yankees announcer John Sterling, who talked to CBS2 about his experience.

“I walked to the building and smelled smoke, and I went out to my floor where my apartment is, and the smoke was so bad I couldn’t see, and I thought, ‘Hey, we’d better get out of here,’” Sterling said.

And many residents, including Limor Yoskowitz-Frinomas, were still waiting to hear whether their homes were destroyed.

“We’re hoping for the best,” she said. “My kids are OK, so I’m OK, and we’ll take it from there.”

There were no reports of any missing persons, but McPartland said two civilians and two firefighters suffered minor injuries. He said some pets were rescued from the blaze, but some did die in the fire.

One woman told CBS2’s Meg Baker that her dogs were both killed.

“I saw gulfing flames coming out of the building, and unfortunately, I have two dogs that perished in the fire – Hailey and Griffin,” the woman said.

This isn’t the first time the very same apartment complex has been engulfed in flames.

In August of 2000, the complex was under construction when a fast-moving fire tore through it. The flames also destroyed a dozen surrounding homes, displacing up to 70 people.

The 2000 fire was ruled accidental by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

CMU Firewall Saves Multi-Family Structure from Disaster

photo 3A 50+ year old wood frame apartment complex in Airway Heights caught fire recently.

The structure is a dry wood frame, with a  CMU fire wall separating the building wings.  This building’s CMU fire wall prevented the adjoining wing from catching fire.  The front side of this structure received more damaged than the back which is shown in the photos.

This demonstrates the effectiveness of the CMU firewall component in multi-family and commercial structures.   The masonry industry works hard to continually reaffirm the use of CMU firewalls in buildings in condensed, urban areas to protect the community from major catastrophic fires as well as other energy, lifecycle and environmental factors.

The Masonry Institute of Washington is available to provide additional information on all masonry systems for both constructability and aesthetics.

Public Works Trust Fund Under Attack in Olympia

It’s crunch time in Olympia as the Legislature is taking action on many fronts that will impact funding for all types of construction. Today’s focus is the Public Works Trust Fund.

A proposal in the State Senate would PERMANENTLY redirect existing funding sources out of the PWTF — endangering dozens of infrastructure projects such as water, sewer, stormwater and some local roads and bridges.

The PWTF provides grants and low-interest loans to local governments for public works projects – many that could not otherwise be financed and built by small communities themselves. Dozens of proposed construction projects — such as the City of Port Orchard Marina Pump Station, City of Omak Sewer System Improvements, and the City of Washougal Stormwater Decant Facility — are in danger should the Legislature adopt a proposal that would gut the Public Works Trust Fund.

In addition to loan repayments—at interest rates ranging from 0.25 to 2 percent per year—the PWTF receives revenue from four state tax sources related to the types of infrastructure aided by the fund: 6.1 percent of the revenue from the real estate excise tax, 20 percent of the revenue from the water utility excise tax, 60 percent of sewerage collection tax revenues, and all the revenue from the state tax on solid waste service.

The State Senate’s budget plan would redirect all of the tax streams — except for two percent of the real estate excise tax — away from the public works trust fund and into other government accounts.

PWTF projects facilitate private economic growth and provide jobs for the hard-hit construction industry which, in turn, supports jobs in industries from material supply to food service and a variety of small businesses. Plus, many of the projects funded by the PWTF protect the environment and improve the quality of life in the state.

Urge your Senator NOT to redirect funding out of the Public Works Trust Fund!

The State Legislature Should Fully Fund the Public Works Trust Fund?

Over the past few budget cycles, the Legislature has greatly reduced the amount of funds available in the PWTF through budget transfers and legislation diverting certain revenue streams. Because the PWTF is a revolving loan fund, such actions continue to undermine the PWTF over time, even though the program is a national model that is widely supported throughout the state. These actions negatively impact job growth, economic development, and regulatory compliance in Washington State. During the recent application process, local governments and special purpose districts submitted over $1 billion in project requests for the available $685 million – even the available funding is inadequate to cover the demand for these basic infrastructure loans.

State investment in basic infrastructure is a strong and necessary foundation for economic growth, and the construction industry has yet to fully recover from the recession. The current mission of the PWTF—to fund essential infrastructure including water, wastewater, road, bridge, and solid-waste and recycling projects—is a vital part of the state’s overall economic-development strategy. According to the Department of Revenue, every dollar invested by the PWTF in basic infrastructure yields an additional $3.60 in statewide economic activity. The more than $2 billion total investment by the PWTF has generated $10.7 billion in gross construction-related economic activity.

These benefits of PWTF investment in basic infrastructure include construction contracts; production, transportation, and purchase of equipment and related goods and services; and purchases made by workers employed on PWTF-financed projects. Without this infrastructure funding, many Washington communities could not sustain, expand, and attract businesses vital to economic development, and could not meet the variety of regulatory requirements under the Growth Management Act, Clean Water Act, and other laws.

The PWTF is one of the rare programs in state government that has broad support from the full spectrum of stakeholder interests – business, labor, local government, and the environmental community.

Before We can Market within the Industry…

One of the greatest challenges for a construction product is being able to remain relevant when only a small portion of its funding and time is spent with the end buyer.  The masonry industry is one of the oldest construction products around.  Masonry products have proven their durability, flexibility and longevity decade after decade, but yet we, like other construction products, struggle to remain the product of choice and to remain relevant.  We spend thousands of dollars every year on research for our products proving that they are environmentally friendly or energy efficient or fire safe.   Each year, we work with code officials, advisory groups, legislators, in order defend our position in the construction market.

And every year, we run up against codes and agencies who want to prove how it’s just not enough.  Recently, I was sitting with a group of academics and consultants who are looking to mandate building product manufacturers provide data on lifecycle assessments to the State.  As we sat in the comfortable room, along Lake Union, with the perfect temperature and lighting, enjoying the view and conversation, I posed the question – “When did the building products industry become the bad guy?” In this particular room, we weren’t being very well received.

The industry spends an absorbent amount of money to maintain its market in a tough construction economy, then an additional amount of money is spent to educate code officials, building officials, elected officials, etc. on why were not a bad choice; and once were done defending our position to those who have no say in whether our product is selected, we must spend time and money educating the designers and general contractors about the actual product.  We don’t mind doing this, as we know why masonry products are the best choice; and why we provide the greatest flexibility for making a lasting statement.

So, the next time, you have the opportunity to have a free lunch through our Lunch and Learn Series, either in your office or ours, or call our technical experts and ask for free advice.  Or if you choose to join us at our September 7th MIW Golf Tournament where design and construction industry representatives play for free, please take a second to listen to the quick marketing message that is being delivered.  We don’t need to do the hard sale – our product really does stand on its reputation, but we did have to spend a lot of time convincing people of that before, we could market it to you.


The Construction Industry is Invited to the 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
2:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
6737 Corson Avenue, Seattle WA
Western Washington Masonry Trades Training Center

With thousands of years of proven performance, masonry construction has produced the world’s most enduring structures from the pyramids in Egypt to our local schools and homes in every neighborhood. Craftsmen have perfected this trowel trade by mastering building techniques passed down from generation to generation providing building owners with lasting projects of the highest quality in a timely manner. The time has come to put those highly honored skills to the test and prove who “The Best Bricklayer in the Puget Sound” is!


The SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500® Competition is a masonry competition that highlights the skills of true journeymen masons, QUALITY WORKMANSHIP where the winner will receive cash and prizes as well as a trip to the World of Masonry in Las Vegas, Nevada, to compete in the National Competition where the winners will take home more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.

Each of the competing teams will consist of one bricklayer and a mason tender. Teams must exhibit skill, speed and stamina to build a 26-foot double-wythe wall, laying as many brick as they can in 60 minutes. With a strict set of rules and guidelines, competitors will be judged on meeting the quality standards of the contest as well as the total number of bricks installed.

Masonry Industry Steps Up To Quality Control Measures



The masonry industry doesn’t need government to step in to hold them to a higher standard. They have been willing to do so since 2005.

 There comes a time in most industries when there is a need to differentiate between the highly skilled, highest quality performers and those who have not yet achieved that level of professionalism. Masonry product installation is a direct reflection on the masonry product, the owner of the building and the architect who designed it. No designer or owner wishes to spend one, two or five years getting through the complex construction process to have a poor building envelope installation, or interior finish,  be the prize at the end of the day.


That is why the masonry industry has gone one step further like electricians, plumbers and roofers and are willing to adhere to strict quality control guidelines just like the architects whose designs they are asked to build. The Certified Mason Contractor must be certified by education and business practice. The bricklayers, marble mason and tile setter who performs the work must be properly trained and attend similar annual continuing education classes.


The WSCMC Certification program consists of twelve graduate level courses that must be attended and passed by the principal owner.  The brick mason, marble mason or tile setter must have a minimum of four years of training by a Washington State approved training program and attend annual continuing education. Additionally, each certified contractor is subjected to an annual industry practicum review by the design industry as well as an annual safety compliance visit by DOSH.


There is no requirement that a WSCMC Certified Mason Contractor be signatory to a union, but many are. It has become standard practice in many design firms to specify a Certified Mason Contractor as certification is recognized as a minimum standard criteria. (See specification language here.)


What is a Certified Mason Contractor?

Contractors certified by the Washington State Conference of Mason Contractors have the following pre-qualifications:
  • In business a minimum of 5 years
  • In good standing with the Washington State Department of Labor and all contractor registration requirements
  • Completed a rigorous 50 hour training program
  • Provided an annual bank letter of financial responsibility
  • Participated in an annual WISHA/DOSH Safety Consultation
  • 24 hour access to an experienced safety consultant
  • A registered training agent with the State of Washington
  • 8 hours of annual continuing management/safety training education
  • An annual industry practicum review
  • All job-site employees must be a graduate (or currently enrolled and supervised by a graduate) of a state-approve training program
  • All job-site employees must be a graduate (or currently enrolled and supervised by a graduate) of a state-approve training program
  • All job-site employees must have eight hours of continuing education training

 The Reason

It is time to hold Masonry Contractors to a higher standard. When you specify a WSCMC Certified Mason Contractor you’ve hired a firm that holds quality workmanship as the top of its priority list, from large commercial buildings to local shopping malls and high profile residences. Regardless of the size or the intended use, the quality of the masonry installation is visible on every project. Click here to view a list of all WSCMC Certified Mason Contractors.


Go ahead, hold them to a higher standard as their end product is a direct reflection on the beauty of the construction process.

Guess What Construction Has Done for Washington’s Economy


For years, many years, the State of Washington has depended on the construction industry for economic growth and sustaining the economy. Yes, Washington appreciates companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks as well as the many mom-and pop businesses in other markets, but the construction industry whether it be residential or commercial has been credited for consistent, stable growth and jobs. But as this recession continues into full tilt, some people have forgotten just what the construction industry offers to Washington.  As the industry continues to struggle as the one of the top three industries hit hardest by the recession, the 2011-2013 Capital Budget investment is a key factor in the employment and economic future of Washington’s residents.  Did you know,

Employment & Economic Impact in 2009
More than 216,000 workers were employed by contractors, construction services and material suppliers in the state (private sector only, doesn’t include government).

•The construction industry represents 9.4% of the state’s private sector workforce.
•Construction sales were more than $27.1 billion in 2009.
•The construction industry has a total payroll of more than $11.4 billion.
•15.3 of all sales in the state of Washington are directly related to the construction industry.
•The construction industry represents 10.5% of total state non-government payroll.

For each $1 invested in new construction:

•The state’s economy generates an additional $1.97 in economic activity throughout the state.
•Household earnings are increased by .64 cents, all households, not just those with someone employed in the construction industry.

Washington’s budget crisis has everyone scrambling to eliminate government waste, find savings and possibly ending entire state programs. Despite all the bleak days in Olympia there is one ray of hope still left coming from the capitol dome – Washington’s capital investment plan.

The Capital Construction plan would mean nearly 62,000 new family-wage jobs and $4.6 billion in increased economic activity throughout the state in the next two years. Now we just need to make sure the legislature doesn’t throw a brick through the window of opportunity by using capital funds to feed the general government budget.

More jobs and economic activity are created by capital investments than by general government spending. Investing $1 billion in the capital budget will create nearly 1,000 more jobs and $55 million more in wages than if that same money is spent in the general government budget.

With Capital Investments

  • More family-wage jobs- $1 billion spent creates 13,820 jobs and  $723 million in wages
  • Community resources- Schools, universities, safe drinking water, low income housing, parks, local voter approved school construction, prisons, local bridges and road repair.
  • Public and Environmental Safety – Stormwater and sewage treatment systems, salmon recovery, safe drinking water.

Without Capital Investments

  • 62,700 fewer jobs.
  • $3.3 billion less in wages.
  • $4.7 billion less in economic activity .
  • $1 billion in job-creating school construction threatened (for every $3 of local voter approved school construction bonds, the state matches $1)
  • Planning and design work for future projects will stop (essential projects will cost more in the future)

Contact your legislator at the Legislative Hotline: 1.800.562.6000– ask them to spend the people’s money wisely – jobs and our Washington economy depend on it – Fund the Capital Budget for next 2011-2013 biennium.

Let them not forget!

Bringing Historic Preservation and Sustainability Connection to Television

Film producer Jane Turville is working to complete her film Conserving Our Future in order to document the historic preservation-sustainability linkage for thousands of television viewers. Supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Kinsman Foundation, the film features several historic rehabilitation projects to demonstrate that recycling buildings is similar in concept to recycling bottles and plastic bags but much more effective in meeting saving energy and attaining sustainability goals.

Visit YouTube or the project website to learn more about the film and view a trailer.

Turville is working through Portland based Natural Step Network to raise money to complete the film for a PBS broadcast.