I pulled up to the jobsite to find that the framers had already installed the big glulam beams over the living room. There are many different ways to frame a roof, but I wanted the look of exposed, natural-wood glulams over the main living space.
“Glulam” stands for glue-laminated lumber. Glulams are an engineered wood product created by bonding solid dimensional lumber together with glue under pressure. Glulams have been around since the late 1800s, and are popular in commercial, industrial, and residential architecture. They are enormously versatile and useful: pound for pound they are stronger than steel, and the biggest glulams can span over 500 feet without support. Glulams can even retain their strength longer than steel in fires because the char that forms on the outside slows down further combustion (by contrast, fire can cause steel to weaken and collapse). To top it off, glulams are made of renewable woods and their manufacture requires far less energy than alternatives. Glulams are often used in projects aiming for carbon-neutrality or sustainability certifications.
So why not use glulams for everything? The biggest reason is cost. Glulams are huge, heavy, and expensive. They look solid because they are. To be sure, they are economical enough to use in purely structural applications (I also have a glulam on top of those posts below the living room windows, for example). But residential construction often prioritizes their use in places where they can be seen and appreciated.
Photos taken December 30, 2019. Posted January 9, 2019.
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