When you need heavy support, you have to look somewhere other than your local home improvement store's aisle of sawn lumber. Structural members that carry the support of thousands of pounds of the house need to be special. Engineered wood beams and joists commonly called laminated veneer lumber (LVL) are just the type of special that builders and homeowners need for this tough job.
Sawn Wood Beams vs. Laminated Beams
Massive, single-piece sawn wood beams, while beautiful and eye-catching, today are mostly the stuff of museums and historic structures. If that's your design idea, reclaimed wood is your best option. Sourced from old barns or warehouses, reclaimed wood beams carry weight well but at a high price. That price: size, weight, and purchase price.
Laminating smaller-dimension wood is the solution. Lamination packs greater strength into a smaller size, the key to providing homeowners with the airy, spacious open floor plan homes that are so desirable today. A builder or do-it-yourselfer can create a rudimentary type of laminated structural wood from scratch. The method is to layer up ordinary store-bought two-by-tens or two-by-twelves to shoulder the load.
But LVLs do the same—and more—in a sleeker form, and usually at reasonable prices.
What Is Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL)?
LVL employs thin, veneer layers to form larger beams and columns. These layers are glued together under high pressure. LVLs always run perpendicular to the load.
Another version of LVL, glulam, uses full-size pieces of lumber, not veneer. These pieces, too, are glued together under high pressure to form larger beams and columns.
Where to Buy LVLs
Due to a lack of customer demand, few home improvement centers will carry LVLs in-stock and on the shelves, ready for purchase. However, some of the large home centers have LVLs in their catalog, available for special order.
If you need an LVL beam now, your local, independent lumber yard likely will have a few basic LVL sizes in-stock.
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Boise Cascade's two massive US-based plants in Louisiana and Oregon and its many distribution centers make VersaLam one of the largest suppliers in the LVL field.
This also means that VersaLam is your best bet for obtaining LVL if you are a residential consumer rather than a contractor with inside buying connections. VersaLam is found in the catalog of a number of home improvement centers.
VersaLam works well for beams, headers, studs, joists, staircase stringers, and rimboards
Related brands within the family include AllJoist, BCI Joists, Boise Cascade Rimboard, Boise Glulam, VersaLam Beams & Headers, and VersaStud.
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One of the oldest West Coast names in lumber, Weyerhauser produces the popular Microllam brand of LVL headers and beams.
Beginning at 1 3/4 inches thick and ranging from 5 1/2 inches to 18 inches deep, Microllam is a dependable workhorse LVL that covers many needs. Double up a short, shallow piece of Microllam for a rock-steady door header or double up a deeper, longer board for a room beam. Weyerhauser LVLs cover the full range of needs for beams, headers, joists, columns, studs, sill plates, and rimboards.
Related brand names include Microllam LVL, Parallam PSL, Parallam Plus Columns, Parallam Plus PSL, TJI Joists, and TimberStrand LSL.
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Louisiana-Pacific may have a small engineered wood division, but that doesn't mean it can't provide basic LVLs needed for general building use. LVLs range from 1 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches wide, with depths between 3 1/2 inches to 9 1/2 inches.
Also, LP educates the trades on LVL, with copious product literature, case studies, and, via a partnership with publisher Hanley Wood, an online certification course called LP University.
Related Louisiana-Pacific LVL products all go by the prefix "LP SolidStart." Thus: LP SolidStart LVL, LP SolidStart I-Joists, LP SolidStart Rim Board, and more.
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South of the Willamette Valley and based in the densely forested lumber country of central Oregon, 80-year-old Roseburg and its several thousand employees produce a full spectrum of lumber products. These products range from sawn lumber and particleboard to laminated veneer lumber.
Roseburg's LVL division is small but substantial. Thicknesses range from 1 1/2 inches to 7 inches, with depths from 3 1/2 inches to 24 inches
Roseburg LVL lumber forms beams, headers, studs, columns, stair stringers, and rimboards in a countless number of homes.
Related Roseburg LVL product names and divisions include RFPI Joist, I-Joist, RigidRim Rimboard, and RigidLam LVL Headers, Beams and Studs.