Successful summit promotes mass timber in Michigan

A new technology of building large structures with engineered wood – known as mass timber – is moving ahead in Michigan with support from the Department of Natural Resources.

In recent weeks:

More than 200 people attended a virtual summit co-sponsored by the DNR and the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute. The three-part summit was created to replace a live event canceled by COVID-19. Additional information sessions are planned for 2021. First up: A session from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, focusing on what can be built with mass timber in Michigan within existing building codes with more info at

The DNR is moving forward with the design stages of its $5 million mass timber building in Newberry in the eastern Upper Peninsula to replace its current field office and customer service center. The building, currently in its design phase, will include 10,000 feet of office space, 16,500 feet of garage space and a community room for public use.

“What we learned from the summit is that there is a lot of interest in the possibilities of mass timber construction,” said Shannon Lott, DNR deputy director. “We will continue to provide information and encouragement going forward.”

Mass timber presents opportunities for aesthetics and cost savings as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon. But adopting a new building method also presents challenges, from meeting local codes to familiarizing builders who are used to concrete and steel in the technique.

The majority of those attending the Michigan Mass Timber Summit live in Michigan, although 12 states were represented among the 207 registrants. Moving online did increase the summit’s attendance capacity, which originally was capped at 100 people. The virtual format also enabled recording of presentations. The event included a video tour of Michigan State University’s $100 million, 117,000-square-foot STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, as well as sessions on design opportunities, cost-benefit analysis, building codes, design, construction, logistics and more. A summary report of the Michigan Mass Timber Summit was prepared to document opportunities for the future.

A post-summit survey shows that 60 percent of attendees wanted to learn more about mass timber in general, 28 percent wanted to learn more about mass timber in Michigan, and 9 percent chose business development as their reason for attending.

The survey also showed that 71 percent of survey respondents would consider building with mass timber in the future.

Michigan’s growing forest products sector generates $20 billion annually and includes lumber, wood products such as plywood and particle board, pulp and paper products. The DNR is certified by two independent organizations regarding sustainable forestry practices in nearly 4 million acres of state forest. It also encourages sustainable forestry among other owners. Michigan has 20 million acres of forested land.