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Building with new tech

A Farmington company has begun construction of a $2 million, first-of-its-kind building in New York.

New Energy Works Timberframers is using the technology of cross-laminated timber, an alternative to steel and concrete, to build an addition to its Ontario County headquarters.

“CLT is a European technology,” said Jonathan Orpin, founder and president of New Energy Works. “There are very few CLT buildings in the U.S. This is the first complete CLT building in New York.”

CLTs are large wooden panels, consisting of three, five or seven layers of lumber oriented at right angles and glued together. They provide the strength and stability of steel and concrete without the sizable carbon footprint, Orpin said.

There is a reason the company opted to order the CLT panels from Austria.

“Most of what we do is with the environment in mind,” Orpin said. “It takes half the energy to ship via boat from Austria than by truck from Oregon.”

The panels are expected to arrive in late January and construction will move into full swing then. The CLT project is designed to be a 21,000-square-foot single-level building to house NEWwoodworks, the fine woodworking division of New Energy Works. The building will be used to provide storage for Pioneer Millworks, sister company to New Energy Works, officials said.

There are 130 employees in Orpin’s two companies. A total of 110 are based in Farmington and the other 20 are in Portland, Ore., where he is based. New Energy Works Timberframers, a dba of New Energy Works of Rochester Inc., ranked No. 71 on the 2016 Rochester Chamber Top 100 list of fastest-growing private companies.

Much of the lumber the company uses in its timberframing is sourced from Oregon.

“Our real strength is timber work, so combining CLT and timber is a natural,” Orpin said, noting the technology is so new to the region there are no clients requesting it.

“We don’t know where CLT will take us, but we like the environmental benefit,” he said. “We like the idea of inspiring others. Sometimes technology comes faster than the clients, and we do expect to see lots of interest.”

CLT technology is being used in the U.S. for both commercial and residential purposes, Orpin said, noting the cost is more expensive than traditional construction. He believes the cost will come down as the production picks up and more people see the benefits of CLT and wood as a renewable resource.

“We think this building technology is coming into the U.S. like a tsunami,” Orpin said

In Minneapolis, the country’s first large-scale modern office building constructed primarily of wood opened on Nov. 29. T3, which stands for timber, technology and transit, is seven stories and 220,000 square feet. The project was designed by Michael Green Architecture, and the company said other timber high rises are set to debut across the country as well. The firm is located in Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Christopher Romano, a research assistant professor at SUNY Buffalo, reached out to Orpin to do research on the CLT project as part of a graduate logging course he is launching this spring. Romano is a member of the faculty in the department of architecture.

“We’re going to work with Jonathan and his team to see what we can learn,” Romano said. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity to bring back the quality of traditional customs. Everyone would love to live and work in a wood building as opposed to one with drop ceilings and fluorescent lighting.”

Certain building codes and requirements have restricted designers, developers and builders and led to a moving away from wood construction to steel, concrete and Sheetrock, Romano noted. The strength and durability of CLT technology opens new opportunities for creative design using wood for its natural beauty.

“There’s a real interest to want to experience the construction of a building. There’s something beautiful about that, the way that it’s made of wood,” Romano said. “Occupants are starting to care about the quality of the space they occupy. When it’s warmer, cozier, happier—that’s the cultural part.”

He hopes that by working with New Energy Works, the university can help in finding potential uses for the CLT technology.

“We’d like to prototype with New Energy Works some possibilities with this system in an academic setting that allows architects and designers to see what could work,” Romano said. “No one’s quite sure yet what buildings could be built.”

He looks forward to the opportunity for students to see how the CLT project unfolds as construction begins in January. Orpin expects it to be completed in April.

“The reinvigoration of timber we’re seeing now is exciting,” Romano said. “It could revolutionize the way we design and build large buildings.”

12/9/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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