A Special Series from North American Wholesale Lumber Association
By Steve Cheatham, Everwood Treatment Co.
Over the last several years, members of the American Wood Protection Association, representing the wood-treatment part of the industry, started discussing an ongoing problem: Consumers were buying our products and using them in ways they were not meant to be used.
A typical example would be when lumber treated for above-ground use was used in ground-contact situations. Treaters, chemical company reps, and interested parties would gather to discuss what could be done to educate the consumer about the differences in treatment levels and end usage. It was typical to show photographs of potential claims where it seemed the product failed but was clearly misused. We could see the end tags in the photos where the intended use was clearly stated. Too many times you would hear, “It’s treated. I thought I could use it anywhere.”
As an industry, we could have ignored this problem. We could have laid the blame on consumers, contractors or salespeople, and said it was their fault for not paying attention.
But that’s not a long-term business solution. Our goal is to protect and educate consumers and make it convenient for them to get the right product for the particular job.
So we took a look at our standards. Through the auspices of the AWPA, our industry looked at what had been written about applications and started a conversation about what could be clarified. We recently came to a consensus. Changes to our standards are being published and implemented as you read this article.
So what exactly changes? Let’s say an end-user was going to build a deck. Currently, they go into a retailer and buy lumber. Most people think that they can frame the deck with any treated lumber just because it says it’s treated. They think that means the 2x6 treated on the shelf can be used for everything from the decking to the stringers. In reality, if it’s less than 6 inches from finished grade (including dirt and landscaping), a structural component critical to the performance of the project, or will not completely dry between wetting cycles, they will have to use ground-contact treated lumber. Those are just a few examples of situations that will require the heavier retention.
Language in the standards clarifies when treated wood should be used and for what applications. Instead of trying to parse the distinction between “ground contact” and “above ground,” the new standard is clear that what matters is the intended use. So if the lumber is to be used in critical applications, for example, it should be treated for ground contact.
It’s important to recognize that the products themselves won’t change. The performance of properly treated wood remains the same. What changes is the terminology in how to specify the product. For example, 2x12s are typically treated for above-ground use. But end-users have been using them in ground-contact applications—as stringers, joists, sub-flooring and step stringers, for instance. The new standard will make it easier since regular inventories will already be treated to ground contact.
When end-users buy and install the products, they will properly perform because they’re designed for a heavier use. Ultimately, a consequence of the standard should be to get the proper products in hardware stores so they are readily available.
Next Steps Forward
There are mechanisms to drive the changes in the standards. One is warranties. If a customer uses lumber for a deck stringer, for instance, and it wasn’t treated with the proper retention, then it won’t be covered under the new warranties.
Another is the Book of Standards from the AWPA, which are typically available in May or June. The ICC-ES has already set July 15, 2016, as their date of implementation. Once in effect, new construction will be expected to follow these guidelines published by AWPA and ICC-ES.
But it’s equally important that the industry educates consumers about the changes. To do our part, Everwood has customized a 53-foot trailer and turned it into a mobile classroom. Every week we go out and visit customers and contractors, training them on the proper use of treated material, selecting the right fasteners and other topics dealing with our industry. We have produced a series of five- to 10-minute videos we use for training. At the end, we ask participants to take a 10-question test to reinforce what they just learned. When the test is completed we give them a folder with pamphlets on all the information that was covered.
As the standards roll out, we’ll also make a push to educate consumers through in-store signage, on-site training, social media, and print media. We want to make sure that customers get the right guidance at the source. We are working on banners and signage designed to help consumers make the right decisions.
– Steve Cheatham is sales manager for Everwood Treatment Co., Spanish Fort, Al., and a member of NAWLA’s marketing committee.