The five-story North Tract Lofts apartment complex in Arlington, Va., was originally designed as a concrete project, but the developer asked its contractor, Clark Builders Group, to reengineer the building to Type III wood construction. The switch is expected to shave as much as 40 percent off of the total construction cost.

North Tract Lofts’ developer, Arlington, Va.-based York Residential, isn’t the only firm giving wood a second look. More builders are turning to wood to make projects financially feasible in today’s market.

“Wood makes more sense in some cases, as it’s tough to get a concrete rental project moving,” says Keith Anderson, executive vice president of Arlington, Va.-based Clark Builders Group. “Burning some density in favor of lower-cost wood construction allows the project to move forward.”

In the past, developers have tended to stick to wood for garden-style product and relied on concrete and steel materials for taller buildings. But now, more builders are considering wood for five-story buildings using Type III construction.

However, five-story wood construction, while cheaper than steel and concrete, still costs a premium over four-story wood construction. Typically, four-story product (without parking or site work) averages $115,000 per unit; five-story wood construction costs $135,000 to $140,000 per unit, says Michael Schlegel, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based builder Bozzuto Construction Co.


The costs of structured steel and concrete products have declined in recent months due to a lack of demand, yet lumber remains the cheapest consumer product.

Steel Lumber Concrete
March 2009 +4.6% -3.2% -0.9%
April 2009 +0.7% +0.7% -0.3%
May 2009 -2.0% -1.0% -0.1%

Source: Producer Price Index