Is TimberSIL Resilient?

TimberSIL is a glass-infused wood manufactured by Timber Treatment Technologies.  Marketed as a green substitute to conventional chemically-treated wood, TimberSIL has come under recent scrutiny for questionable performance under intended designed conditions.  We use this situation to discuss the implications of vetting new products on the basis of green material ratings.

Make it Right HomesCriticisms have emerged over the product’s susceptibility to rot and poor acceptance of common coatings.  Perhaps the most profiled case involves the Make It Right organization founded by the actor Brad Pitt.  Make It Right is a charitable organization that is heavily involved in the revitalization of New Orleans’ Katrina-ravaged Lower 9th Ward.  The foundation has also embarked on similar projects in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy; urban blight in Kansas City, Missouri; and a Native American reservation in Fort Peck, Montana.   The foundation promotes LEED Platinum specifications with a goal of delivering high-performing, healthy buildings.  Its projects also rely heavily on materials ratings by Cradle to Cradle, an organization providing verified product ratings on the basis of renewable energy, clean water, material health, social responsibility and material reutilization.

The Make it Right foundation claims that decks and stairs constructed with the TimberSIL product showed signs of rot after only three years in service, despite being guaranteed for 40 years. More than 100 homes were eventually built under their post-Katrina initiative, which touted not only healthy and sustainable practices but also storm resistance.  At least a third of these homes utilized TimberSIL as a material in keeping with its Cradle to Cradle objectives.  TimberSIL products are certified “Silver” according to Cradle to Cradle’s scorecard, which includes the following product description:

TimberSIL not only replaces the hazardous copper, chromium, and arsenic-based preservatives that were used in the past, but it also outperforms them in the areas of leaching, corrosion, and toxicity. The patented TimberSIL formulation and barrier process locks in its wood protection benefits with by using a special micro manufacturing technique, this in turn eliminates the leaching problems associated with borates and other preservatives, while at the same time creating a whole new set of benefits.”  Scorecard

TimberSIL Specification Sheet

TimberSIL’s specification sheet indicates performance testing in accordance with AWPA E1; ASTM D3345; ASTM D1758; and AWPA E7.  The products attained a Formosan termite grade of 10-9.5 (no weight loss) and a decay grade of 10 (no weight loss).   Both grades imply adequate performance under the employed field testing; however, extrapolating these results to site-specific conditions can be problematic as we discussed in an earlier post regarding Performance of Decay and Termite-Resistant Wood.

We are not aware of published ICC evaluation reports for TimberSIL, and acceptance criteria for glass-infused wood do not exist.  Furthermore, our requests for performance test reports have gone unanswered by Timber Treatment Technologies. Notwithstanding this lack of disclosure, it is clear that TimberSIL does not demonstrate the same performance and quality control met by wood treated with copper quaternary compounds, copper azoles, and acetic anhydride (i.e. acetylated wood). The basis for performance compliance is highly questionable; and yet TimberSIL remains favored by owners, architects, and builders eager to meet green and healthy building objectives.

Green Inspirations Gone Awry
This case  exemplifies an industry gone awry with green inspirations at the expense of tried and true performance.  Implied in the common vernacular of ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘healthy’, and ‘socially responsible’ is the underlying assumption of quality and durability.  Unfortunately, initiatives such as LEED and Cradle to Cradle do not profess nor promise durability.  Alas, even the term ‘durability’ has been greenwashed – replaced by a new green buzzword, resiliency.  Perhaps through this new syntax the industry will yet awake to appreciate that true sustainability cannot be achieved without sound durable practices.  Of all sustainability benchmarks, none have greater impact.

While it is appreciated that Make It Right relied on a number of well-respected firms that generously volunteered their time, such oversights question the project’s quality practices.  When vetting building materials, the responsibility of due diligence falls on all parties but especially design professionals who should know the relevance of performance compliance.  The irony is particularly rich in the Make It Right debacle, where homes were designed with the assistance of ‘award winning’ architects with the goals of healthy building and storm resistance.   In this case, flawed assumptions and poor material vetting have undermined the very essence of sustainability.

Resources January 5, 2014: Homes built by Brad Pitt’s foundation damaged by rotting wood product