It’s nice to have options. New construction can incorporate a number of structural support elements, the basic three being steel, wood or concrete. One product attempting to rival the properties of structural steel is glue laminated timber or glulam. Would your new Colorado construction project benefit most from steel or from several layers of dimensional lumber adhered together to form one strong beam? That depends on the structure, of course, and overall goals for the building. Presently, a huge glulam marketing effort suggests that the construction industry can replace its slightly more expensive steel for engineered wood in most applications. Whether this is true remains to be seen. Since both steel and wood bring unique properties to the table, you should decide based on the three following design goals.
1. DurabilityWith over a century of use, the long-term strength and durability of structural steel can no longer be questioned. Glulam is relatively new to the market — in use since about mid century — which is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. However, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable atop the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building if either had been constructed with timber, were that even possible. According to an article in Design Buildings promoting high-rise designs with structural engineered wood, the highest building with glulam bones in North America tops out at eight stories. Architects, engineers and developers of international building codes know that no matter how you join wood, and despite any other perceived benefits, it just can’t perform like steel. Even when loads will be light, wood still faces durability challenges unknown to steel, such as:
- Shrinkage from moisture loss in the semi-arid Colorado climate
- Wood-boring insects
- Water damage