In the buildup to December 31, 1999, a major concern lingered among technology industry professionals concerning the reaction older computer systems would have to the changing of the millennia. Everyone remembers what it was called: Y2K, which proved to be a nothing more than a memorable moniker for an unfounded threat.
In the buildup to December 31, 2003, a major concern lingered among building and lumber professionals concerning the treated wood industry’s voluntary phase-out of chromated copper arsenate in many of its common uses. While the issue has not yet picked up a nickname or slogan (One suggestion: Why CCA?), the December 31 deadline passed without much commotion, just as it did four years ago.
“The world goes on,” says Leo Shirek, head of research and product development at Wick Buildings.
But unlike Y2K, the Why CCA? issue remains very real for the rural building industry, shrouded by confusion on all sides. Terms of the phase-out targeted CCA for its use in applications such as decks and swing sets, but the remaining categories of allowable uses failed to include post-frame industry staples such as 4x6s and nail-laminated columns. The National Frame Builders Association has interpreted that the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to allow CCA to be used in post-frame buildings. NFBA representatives have asked the EPA to adopt or reject those interpretations, and to include components such as 4x6s, skirtboards, and nail-lams in its list of allowable uses. As of press time, the NFBA has not heard back from the EPA.
So now what? While the industry waits for further guidance from the EPA, lumberyards stock dual inventories of wood treated with CCA and its alternatives, builders proceed with caution, and everyone gradually learns more about the next generation of wood preservatives.
State of limbo
“My customers are calling on a daily basis, asking me ‘What are you doing?’” says Mike Burkholder of Ohio Timberland Products. “I tell them ‘I can’t tell you, we’re waiting for them to say something.’”
“They” are the members of the EPA overseeing the CCA phase-out. Standards from the American Wood Preservers Association were used to qualify certain applications as CCA-allowable, including many typical post-frame uses. But while some of the standards hinted at post-frame applications, the NFBA has asked the EPA to broaden its interpretations.
– Standard C16 allows for CCA to be used in poles, piles, and posts as structural members on farms. NFBA has asked for the standard to include non-round members.
– C24 covers sawn timbers more than 5 inches thick, which does not include 4x6s, the preferred structural member for smaller buildings such as suburban garages. The NFBA has asked that 4×6 members be included under C24.
– Glue-laminated members are covered by C28, but not nail-laminated members.
– Skirtboards are not covered by any standard. The NFBA has argued that skirtboards, like nail-lams and glulams, comprise the permanent foundation system of a post-frame building, and are covered under C22.
Chemical manufacturer Arch Wood Protection has said these components in question will still be acceptable for CCA treatment. (Rural Builder, December 2003). Arch says CCA can be used on 4x4s and 4x6s used in agricultural settings at 0.60 pcf retention when treated in accordance with C16, and nail-lams and skirtboards are permissible if treated in accordance with C22.
Fellow manufacturer Osmose also says it will continue to produce CCA preservatives and its customers will treat post-frame products that are retained for preservation by CCA. “If additional applications are added to the retained list due to the industry’s efforts, this would be fine with us, and a benefit if it aids the post-frame industry,” says Osmose’s Al Heberer.
Regardless of what the EPA rules, CCA isn’t going away, at least in the short term. Existing stocks of CCA-treated lumber may be sold, as long as the lumber was treated before December 31. A survey of lumber suppliers and building companies shows a preference to keep things the way they have been.
“I think a lot of people want to stay with CCA, especially post-frame builders,” says Dale Schiferl of Timber Technologies, a glulam manufacturer. “A guy who builds one or two sheds a year might not care, but post-frame builders want to stick with CCA.
“For one, it’s a proven product, and there have been few, if any, problems with the arsenate that leaches from the product. Two, when you’re building buildings, there are all kinds of fastener issues, steel panel issues, and the fact that these new treatments are corrosive scares people. There’s peace of mind using CCA.”
At least one big building company agrees. “We intend to continue to use CCA as long as we possibly can,” says Lester Buildings president John Hill. “We know there’s some issues to be sorted out with the EPA, but our suppliers of CCA have gotten enough of a clarification.”
One change Hill sees is that treated columns will likely be required to be made of foundation grade lumber, products that exclude heartwood. Heartwood is the old, dead wood at the center of a tree that is durable and resistant to decay yet difficult to treat with wood preservatives.
Ken Guffey of Rigidply Rafters says his company will continue to sell CCA-treated glulams for post-frame use, and will also offer ACQ- and copper azole-treated options. “We’re still going to offer CCA, we’ve been assured a supply for that,” he says.
Offering an example of a way to work around any new limitations, Guffey cites a hypothetical pavilion package. Rigidply would sell glulam posts treated with CCA only at the bottom, and surround them above grade with ACQ-treated 2-by dimensional lumber. This strategy would prevent people from directly contacting CCA.
A voluntary move away from CCA by the building industry would certainly be accelerated if building purchasers were insisting ACQ or copper azole be used on their projects. For the most part, they aren’t.
“They’re not all that aware,” says Hill. “We’ve gotten some competitors attempting to use the conversion to ACQ as a selling point, but customers in general want something that’s going to last, and CCA has been out there forever.”
Shirek says that of all the buildings Wick has sold in the last year, only one customer has requested the use of ACQ, a project involving organic farming. “I don’t think (wood treatments) are a high priority on customers’ reading lists,” he says.
But it’s been difficult to avoid news of the CCA phase-out, which has been covered by national publications like USA Today, as well as to local newspapers. Tim Wiley says some customers at his Schaghticoke, N.Y., lumberyard are up on the wood treatment issue.
“Some are, and some aren’t,” Wiley says. “People are more educated now, and those who want to find out will ask questions. They want to make sure they use the right material.”
While the industry waits for word from the EPA, lumber dealers are caught in an uncomfortable situation. Some have stocked as much CCA-treated lumber as they can, and will ride that supply out. Others have taken a more flexible — albeit more expensive — route, stocking dual inventories.
Wiley hopes he has enough CCA product to last through the first quarter. “We want to let things shake out, see what the problems are with the new stuff,” he says. “We know some other lumber dealers, they started gearing up last year, but it’s hard when the new stuff costs considerably more money than the old stuff.”
Standard Lumber in Kalamazoo, Mich., is currently stocking dual inventories. Post-frame department manager Mike Lockard says all of his yard’s CCA stock will be 0.60 treated. Lockard believes it will be difficult to obtain 0.40 treated stock, because treaters will not want to make multiple runs.
Jim Bischel of Northern Crossarm says it will be difficult for lumberyards to continue stocking lumber treated with both CCA and its alternatives. “Yards can’t afford to double inventory,” he says. “They can’t afford to say ‘We can save $50 per thousand (board feet) buying CCA,’ when some of it will be used for ag applications, and others will be used for residential applications. Most places don’t have the luxury of doing that.”
Oklahoma-based Tahlequah Truss Company will not go the dual inventory route. The company is using up its supply of CCA, then making the switch to ACQ. “I thought about getting 30 or 40 loads of (of CCA-treated lumber), but that won’t help us make the change any faster,” says Tahlequah’s Gary Mayberry. “I’ll purchase whatever the treatment plant is putting in the tubes.”
While CCA remains the preferred wood treatment for the present, smart manufacturers, lumber dealers, and builders are formulating contingency plans in the event that CCA-treated products are either outlawed entirely or are phased out by market demands. But if CCA fades, two more prominent C’s associated with alternative treatments will move to the forefront: cost and corrosion.
“If the industry long-term moves away from CCA and go to ACQ-type products, we will be receptive to offering that option to the consumer,” says Shirek. “At this point in time it’s an expensive option. Another dilemma having to do with that option is that at this point in time, the steel cladding companies have yet to really put out an official interpretation of steel in contact with that type of material.”
Both cost and corrosion are difficult to gauge, given the industry’s lack of experience using the alternative treatments. Bischel, whose company has been using ACQ to treat lumber products for 10 years, says ACQ adds between $40-60 in chemical costs per thousand board feet, compared to CCA. Shirek says this could amount to something as small as a 1-2 percent overall cost increase on a large building, and as much as 10-12 percent on a smaller building.
As for corrosion, it is believed that the alternatives, with a higher copper concentrate, are more corrosive to metal building components than CCA (see sidebar). Long-term performance data is not yet available, making it difficult to evaluate performance of different components with the alternatives.