Certified construction lumber

Laws governing the lumber used in building. December 17, 2002

There's an article in our upstate New York newspaper about a local sawmill operator who is going to have a problem in the near future selling rough cut lumber, because it is not certified to build with. The building inspector won't allow sheds or barns to be built with rough cut lumber unless it is certified. Has anyone else run into this problem? If I want to sell beams or 2x4s for a shed, what are my options?

Forum Responses
This is very common throughout the USA and Canada; it is rare when it is not followed. (Sometimes when building your own structure, they will overlook the requirement.) The lumber must be graded and stamped by a certified agency to assure quality, safety and conformity with the building code. Conformity is nearly 100% in larger populated areas.

It would be easy (although not always cost-effective) to hire an inspector to come and grade the lumber on a Saturday, when the grader is not working at his regular mill, or hire an outside grading agency to come in from time to time to grade.

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

In New York, if the sawyer signs a piece of paper that the lumber is #2 or better, the inspector can allow the builder to use the lumber. Native lumber can be used here in any structure except large commercial buildings.

I've had to sign a couple of times for customers. I don't see how it's any more enforceable than holding the inspector liable if the building that he inspected fell down.

Softwood people don't certify individuals like the hardwood folk do - they certify the sawmill itself. That have to make sure the lighting is adequate, etc.

Certified is different than stamped.

I can't believe that some of the garbage that big lumberyards pass off as building material is certified. Makes no sense.

I sawed 4000 bf for a guy building a horse barn. It was mostly eastern hemlock, cedar for siding and white ash for posts and beams and poplar. I don't think the horses care if the lumber has a stamp on it.

I know that here in Pennsylvania, if logs are certified, it has nothing to do with grade. Certification means that good logging practices are taking place and that the land is not being destroyed. All of the state land here in Pennsylvania is certified. All logs cut on the state land are certified until they leave the state land.

From contributor B:
The February/March 1999 issue of Independent Sawmill & Woodlot Management magazine addressed this issue. The article, "Investigative Report: Lumber Laws", describes some of the problems that are encountered when using unstamped native lumber for construction.

In the article, Bruce Williamson, Associate Forester for New York's Dept. of Conservation, states "In NY State, an Unmarked Structural Lumber rule is now 12 years old and is working well." The article further states that on March 25, 1986, an amendment to the statewide building code was adopted to allow "unmarked structural lumber" in "dwellings not exceeding three stories in height and other buildings not exceeding 10,000 square feet or 35 feet in height," subject to the following conditions:

1. The producing mill must sell or provide the lumber directly to the ultimate consumer or his contract builder, and;

2. The producing mill must certify in writing to the consumer or builder that the lumber meets or exceeds grade #2 (and that "certificate" must be filed with the building permit application).

The article also states, "To make the rule work, NY Legislators tied the native lumber directly to the person or mill that produced it. When construction lumber is sold, the person selling it has to sign a statement saying they believe the lumber is #2 grade or better, and they must state in plain terms that the lumber is unstamped."

Now the kicker. The article further states, "The other wrinkle to New York's rule is that while the state allows inspectors to approve homes built with local lumber, it does not require them to."

I posted this because this subject seems to come up quite regularly. I live in NY in Wyoming Co. The building inspectors here allow unstamped lumber in homes. Their big concern is that the lumber is dry. They don't want it used right off the mill.

I believe that same article noted that NH allows individual sawyers to grade and sell #2 construction lumber after taking a short course on grading. I took the course and can certify my lumber. I learned that allowable amounts of wane far exceeded what I would cut and sell, but more important, the course taught me to watch for cross grain. Allowable knot size was also covered in the course.

From contributor B:
I think NH has the right approach in making individual sawyers that want to produce and sell construction lumber take a course on grading it.

Unfortunately, NY doesn't have this requirement. I feel if NY did, there would be much less resistance from the building inspectors on using unmarked structural lumber. So in my opinion, if you're cutting lumber for construction in NY and don't have a grade stamp, it would be to your best interest to take a course.

Also in my opinion, the building inspectors are not the enemy here. Shoddy workmanship and substandard materials are.

The above is correct about the true statement of the problem. When the first roof falls in and it was made of uncertified lumber, things will get under even more government control. All it takes is one bad apple...

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

I too have taken the NH grading course. It was worth the $25 and day spent. I've used it a few times to certify the lumber I had cut for customers.

As I see it, the certified wood thing is a liability issue. If there is a failure there needs to be a path to responsibility. Although I doubt if many failures are attributable to lumber, I bet design or build flaws are more likely responsible.

If you are sued, you can expect that the cost to defend yourself, even if you are 100% okay, will be no less than $250,000, plus whatever awards are given to the other side. Many firms have liability insurance (but check the riders and exceptions). The insurance company will settle for a lesser amount in many cases, so it may look like the other side "won" the case, when actually the results reflect the "least cost" settlement.

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I remember when the law concerning building materials was passed for NY in 2002. I live in the heart of the Adirondacks and it was the biggest public uprising since the Adirondack Park Agency was established in 1973. An exception was quickly added for this area. Now I am a sawyer for a small mill and we sell 2 times as fast as we can cut it.

We don't guarantee our lumber for structural strength and it is understood that it is the responsibility of the builder to only use suitable material. Maybe that is why so many buildings around here are falling down. Personally I would feel uncomfortable using knotty pine for framing, especially when finished spruce at the local supplier is cheaper. I guess rough cut framing is a tradition around here as are the twig railings which are terribly out of code yet the most common style.