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Mass Timber: Local vs Imported

10 minutes
June 1st, 2021

Mass Timber is a more sustainable and cost effective way to build using a renewable material and replacing finite materials like concrete and steel.

When it comes to mass timber specification, engineers are left with two very different choices; purchase locally or import product – and if you don’t plan on redesigning the entire structure, they’ll require you to choose which one from the start.

There’s been quite an emphasis on purchasing Australian made products because it supports Australian employment, but in this case, it is also a more cost efficient alternative. Throughout this article, find out the importance of your purchasing power when it comes to mass timber products, why it is imperative to select local over imported and what steps you can take to do so.

What is mass timber?

‘Mass timber’ is a type of construction. In contrast to light-frame wood construction, mass timber is typically made using large panels, columns, beams, and flooring systems. They are pre-fabricated off-site for ease of installation.

Mass timber construction is the future of the built environment due to increased pressure for housing and infrastructure as a result of a growing population. For years the construction industry has been implementing ways to reduce emissions, become carbon neutral and minimise waste – and one answer to that lies in technological advances and improved manufacturing: mass timber construction.

Mass timber in Australia is abundant and utilises local regenerative wood that replaces finite materials like concrete and steel. Along with it’s sustainable benefits, Australian mass timber is safe, accurate, light in weight and fast to construct.

The advantages of local over imported mass timber products

No Hidden Costs

When purchasing imported mass timber products, hidden costs like tariffs, international charges and time costs need to be factored. Importing products means you have to account for the time it takes to manufacture the product and the time it takes to ship it – often from Europe.
When we refer to ‘hidden’ it means that these costs are forgotten or not included in the cost comparison. These costs include:

  • Wood Levy
  • Quarantine & Declaration Processing Charge
  • Terminal Handling Charge and Customs Clearance
  • Import Documentation and Sea Cargo Automation Fee
  • Tailgate Fee
  • Lyctid/stink bug treatment
  • And largest of all, warehousing and its affiliated overheads

No Shipping Damage

With overseas products, you run the risk of damage during delivery. While this is a small and infrequent risk, it is a reality with huge penalties. Due to the size and length of mass timber solutions, products are shipped in containers (which also limits the length you can purchase). Due to the likelihood of movement combined with the uncertainty of this type of transport, damaged stock means potential delays in schedules, the need for additional stock and possible repairs on-site, or worst of all, delays in critical path with liquidated damages accrued.

No additional transport or insurances

Once your imported stock has arrived at a port, it’ll first need to be fumigated (for stink bug, lycid borer, etc.) and inspected at a cost. You then have 3 days to remove the containers from the wharf, every day after that you can expect a fee of AU$400+. Once removed, the stock will need to be transported to a holding bay (which has its own challenges like rent or a tenancy agreement) or if the timeline matches, direct to site.

Watch out for insurances too, if containers go missing or fall off the ship (again, small risk but happened to us in 2020), you’ll have to chase up your overseas supplier’s insurance company for compensation and then wait for a replacement.

No stamp duty and exchange rates

International markets are constantly evolving, which creates an additional cost risk. In today’s climate, exchange rates can change dramatically, which can unexpectedly blow out the budget by up to 20%. Of course, exchange rates can sometimes go in your favour but when you’re quoting to win a tender, do you roll the dice or allow movement and lose the tender? You will also be required to pay stamp duty on your imported product.

No cost in tying up money

Often exporters require payment before manufacturing or shipping that can result in money being tied up for 4-5 months. This is a 3-5% loss in profit if factored correctly.

No risk of poor communication or reaction times

Time zones and language barriers are two key considerations when purchasing imported mass timber products. If any questions or issues arise, a response could take up to 12 hours, which is a gamble when it comes to establishing project expectations.

No international law commercial risks

In the chance that something goes wrong during an international exchange, the legal proceedings will occur in the country of origin. This leaves customers exposed to foreign policies and laws that may prohibit monetary or stock remuneration. It also makes it harder to hold manufacturers accountable if issues occur.

No blown out lead times

When your suppler is located half way around the world, you run the risk of potential project delays and blown out leads. Unforeseen delays can occur like manufacturing complications, port and shipping postponements and changes in international laws. These problems can create a huge deficient in your critical path schedule and add unnecessary difficulties. Add this to the reality that no construction site meets its proposed deadlines and you quickly learn the only solution to this predicament is to pay for your own storage facility and hold the stock. Of course, the added costs here are compounding (warehouse, staff, forklifts/gantry cranes, materials, overheads, delivery costs there and back, etc)

If you are not factoring in ~AU$300 per m3 for these hidden costs on average, you’re underquoting.

What it looks like to purchase locally...

Aside from having zero hidden costs mentioned above, Australian supply isn’t exposed to the huge variability in costs we’re seeing out of Europe and America today. European structural framing costs have jumped a ridiculous 220-300% in the last 6 months alone (how do you plan for that?). Australian producers don’t have this variability and here at ASH, we produce our own feedstock – so we don’t have that variability at all!

Buying mass timber locally not only supports an Australian business, but has a positive flow on effect throughout the entire community and you can be confident that your dollars are spread throughout a complete supply chain. Here’s what this flow on effect looks like…

How to source Australian made mass timber products

Now that you’re well versed in the risks of imported mass timber products, you need to know how to source it in Australia. Lucky for you, Australia has several mass timber options to cater to jobs of all sizes and mass timber options (CLT, GLT, TCC, ATC, etc.) and while there are a few of us with decent experience, there is a growing list of manufacturers coming on the scene.
Australian mass timber can be significantly stronger than European or North American options. This means section sizes can be smaller, ceiling heights can be higher, spans can be longer, bracketry can be smaller, deliveries fewer, foundations cheaper, protective coatings are cheaper and the entire system ends up more cost effective. To achieve these cost-effective improvements, you need to design with an Australian timber from the start.

First, you’ll need to research what options are available. Get in contact with each supplier and request an expert to go through your options, as there are Australian manufacturers to supply every request in a number of different aesthetics.

Second, ensure you contact your Australian supplier during the concept stage of your project. Often, Australian mass timber products, like MASSLAM, can be the most cost effective providing they were designed that way from the start.

Third, book a one-on-one presentation with our MASSLAM expert to:
• Improve your knowledge of Australian mass timber solutions
• Learn about new advancements in local production
• Find out about cost efficiencies

Book a Presentation with a MASSLAM expert