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Durango company expands manufacturing of recycled low-cost wood building materials with state grant

Timber Age Systems Inc. hopes to address wildfire mitigation efforts, economic development and affordable housing with new facility
Fernando Murillo, left, and Matt Betts make cross-laminated timber panels from ponderosa pine at Timber Age Systems Inc.’s manufacturing facility. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Timber Age Systems Inc., a Durango company that specializes in making cross-laminated timber for sustainable building projects, plans to expand its manufacturing capacity and develop a new facility after receiving a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Program.

The approximately $440,000 grant will cover the creation of a new 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in La Plata County that will triple Timber Age’s capacity, said co-founder Andrew Hawk. It will also help the company add more employees and grow its use of locally harvested ponderosa pines.

Connor Dessel mills wood boards needed to construct cross-laminated timber panels for Timber Age Systems Inc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Timber Age Systems aims to create usable wood products from fire mitigation efforts across the Southwest. The company sources all of the wood it uses from fire mitigation projects, turning to public and private lands for the ponderosa pines it needs.

Doing so diverts trees that would usually be wasted while creating economic opportunity and a product local builders can use. It’s all a part of Timber Age Systems’ efforts to use sustainable building to create healthy forests.

“If ponderosa pine is going to be removed from the forest from a forest health and fire mitigation standpoint, we as a community need to figure out what to do with it. And we need some sort of market for it,” Hawk said. “So it was as much about figuring out how to utilize the wood and divert it from landfill or burning as it was figuring out how to put it in buildings”

Timer Age Systems’ own manufacturing process tries to maximize sustainability, linking local builders with local forests.

“We've been able to go round-trip from where the tree was harvested to our manufacturing facility back into a structure in less than 50 miles,” Hawk said.

Timber Age Systems Inc. sources all of its wood from fire mitigation projects in Southwest Colorado. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Cross-laminated timber was first developed in Austria and Germany in the 1990s, according to Erol Karacabeyli, a scientist with FPInnovations, in the “U.S. Cross Laminated Timber Handbook.” It was designed to replace concrete and steel in building commercial, industrial and multifamily housing complexes.

“The Europeans developed it so that they could create buildings with a lower carbon footprint and overall improvement in energy demands in how much it costs to heat and cool and maintain the building,” Hawk said.

Cross-laminated timber can speed up building projects by as much as 40%, Timber Age Systems Inc. co-founder Andrew Hawk said. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Cross-laminated timber buildings are 60% to 70% more energy efficient compared to traditional buildings, Hawk said. They can also be assembled 40% faster.

The use of cross-laminated timber in building projects has grown in Europe but has lagged in the U.S. Over the last decade, cross-laminated buildings have begun to proliferate across the Pacific Northwest, but they have yet to catch on in Southwest Colorado.

“The market is growing,” Hawk said. “I would say it is slow and it’s currently small. But with the focus recently from municipalities on workforce housing, employee housing, rapid housing solutions, the conversation is growing.”

Cross-laminated timber is made by gluing wooden boardstogether in alternating layers. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Hawk said cross-laminated timber could help address the ongoing housing crisis in Southwest Colorado. With faster building times, housing complexes can be constructed with lower costs, entering the market at lower price points.

As Timber Age Systems expands, it plans to continue to advocate for its wood products as a sustainable building material and a solution for fire mitigation and affordable housing.

“We knew that part of our initial business model had to be education, that we were going to need to work with architects, structural designers, engineers, contractors,” Hawk said.

“It's catching on. It's absolutely catching on,” he added.

If you’re wondering about the risks of building with cross-laminated timber in a region with wildfires, Hawk said don’t worry.

“What's been shown in national and global fire studies is that it takes far longer for the structure to become dangerous or collapse than it would if it were a steel or traditionally framed home,” he said. “So they actually perform quite well in fire.”

Connor Dessel moves locally sourced ponderosa pines onto Timber Age Systems Inc.’s mill. Cross-laminated timber buildings are 60% to 70% more energy efficient than concrete or steel buildings, according to co-founder Andrew Hawk. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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