Glulam Beams Combine Strength and Good Looks
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Architects and home-builders know the advantages of glulam beams, but the average homeowner probably doesn’t realize all that this building material can offer for major remodels and building expansions.
Homes are often constructed of wood framing that is generally supported by a system of posts and beams, but the available sizes of solid wood beams don’t always offer adequate support for heavy loads over long spans. To support heavy loads over long, uninterrupted spans, builders and architects can turn to concrete or steel, or use beams made of engineered wood, such as glulam beams.
“Glulam” is short for structural glued-laminated timber. These large beams are fabricated by bonding layers of specially selected lumber with strong, durable adhesives, enabling production of longer and wider structural wood members than are normally available.
Engineered I-beams and other alternatives can also be used, but Glulam beams have a unique advantage: They’re good looking. Glulam has the natural and attractive appearance of solid wood, unlike the visible OSB webbing of an I-beam. This feature gives glulam beams a decorative advantage for applications where the framing components might be visible, such as a large pergola-style roof, the exposed beams of a timber-frame ceiling, or when removing a wall to open a floor plan.
Glulam beams can be used for almost any type of structure, and the material is one-sixth the weight of a reinforced concrete beam (and two-thirds the weight of steel). This means they’re easier to transport and handle.
Glulam beams are still heavy, though, and are generally only specified to handle long spans and large loads as calculated by a structural engineer. This blog post isn’t meant to suggest glulam beams for the DIY remodeler, but I think it’s important for homeowners to know what materials are available as they plan their next dream project, so they can better communicate those ideas to a reputable building contractor.
For the Pros: Our contractor friends who tackle heavy construction and remodeling might be interested to learn more about glulam beams from this video webinar, courtesy of APA - The Engineered Wood Association.