Timber Innovation Act

Introduced to the House of Representatives in March 2017, the Timber Innovation Act (H.R. 1380) will undermine the safety and soundness of our buildings, expose our firefighters and first responders to undue dangers, and openly choose winners and losers in building materials. H.R. 1380 would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to create a Tall Wood Building Competition administered by the Secretary of Agriculture for the construction of tall wood buildings 85 feet and above. We oppose this legislation because it compromises the safety and soundness of tall buildings. Mass timber is made of wood and is not a noncombustible construction material. As such, wood should not be encouraged and promoted by the federal government as a preferred material for building tall structures.

The 2015 International Building Code does not support wood-framed structures exceeding five stories. The International Code Council (ICC) Committee upheld this provision during its 2016 Code Action Hearings, blocking a proposal to increase the height limit for timber buildings to nine stories and 100 feet by an 87 percent vote.

Additionally, the combustible nature of tall buildings with heavy timber framing systems poses increased risk to firefighters, first responders and the structure’s occupants. In 2015, the New York City Uniformed Fire Officers Association expressed grave reservations with the construction of a tall wood building in New York City, citing the “obvious structural and safety concerns that the utilization of wood introduces.” Fire marshals and public safety professionals across the country hold similar concerns about the increased dangers associated with sending brave firefighters and first responders into a flaming wooden skyscraper.

H.R. 1380 establishes the federal government, specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as an arbiter not only of preferred construction materials, but of codes and standards – displacing both the practiced professionalism of model code organizations like the ICC but also the discretion of localities that have adopted or adapted these model codes.

Finally, it is inappropriate for the federal government to pick winners and losers for building materials in the construction industry, particularly at taxpayers’ expense and especially when most of the manufacturers of these materials are foreign companies. There are very few mass timber producers in the United States. Rather than picking winners and losers, the federal government should be in the business of protecting fair competition in the marketplace.