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Green Building News

TimberSIL May Live to See Another Day

Rights to the beleaguered company go to a New York investment firm after TimberSIL's parent company fails to repay a loan

TimberSIL was installed on houses built by Brad Pitt's Make it Right foundation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The lumber was later replaced when it began showing signs of premature failure.

The long, tortured history of TimberSIL treated lumber may get even longer.

A New York investment firm specializing in buying the assets of distressed companies has taken over rights to TimberSIL and hopes to resume manufacturing the lumber as early as this year, according to a principal in the firm. The development was first reported by Environmental Building News.

Douglas Wolfe, general counsel of ASM Capital in Woodbury, New York, told GBA that his firm had lent money to the parent company of TimberSIL, Timber Treatment Technologies (TTT). “When things didn’t work out,” he said, “we took over the assets.” Wolfe didn’t say how much the loan was for, but the arrangement will leave TTT responsible for any liabilities lingering from the company’s tangled legal past, and will allow the new owners to start producing TimberSIL again.

A successful relaunch of TimberSIL would seem as miraculous as a revival of the Edsel. Announced with great fanfare in 2004, TimberSIL was praised as a next-generation lumber that didn’t use heavy metals or other toxic preservatives common in conventional pressure-treated wood, yet still came with a 40-year guarantee against rot. The manufacturer described a unique process of using sodium silicate and heat to encase wood fibers in a protective coating of amorphous glass.

Problems begin to emerge

Despite the warm welcome, Timber Treatment Technologies never got TimberSIL into the building products mainstream. It refused to release test results or other data that would support its performance claims. There were distribution problems and an unfavorable report from Oregon State University researchers. A distribution deal collapsed, and a lawsuit was filed by a Wisconsin company under contract to produce TimberSIL.

TimberSIL also was saddled by a couple of well-publicized failures, including one involving Brad Pitt’s Make it Right foundation in New Orleans. The foundation used TimberSIL on outdoor features of 39 houses in the Lower Ninth Ward constructed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, the lumber was replaced when it began showing signs of deterioration. The foundation, according to a story in The Times-Picayune, later sued Timber Treatment Technologies for nearly $500,000, claiming its “irresponsible, unresponsive and duplicitous conduct resulted in substantial monetary and reputational damage.”

In Massachusetts, the historic Summit House on Mount Holyoke installed TimberSIL as part of a state-financed renovation, and then spent $100,000 to replace it when it wouldn’t hold paint. The state elected not to sue.

It’s not clear whether those and other disputes were ever settled. But last year, company founder and CEO Karen Slimak was removed from her post by a Virginia judge as part of a civil proceeding, according to an article posted at GazetteNet.com.

New owners like the product

Despite this backdrop, ASM is upbeat about TimberSIL.

“We loved the product,” Wolfe said. “We think it’s a breakthrough product. We lent money to the company trying to help it get through a tough time. It did not, so now that we’ve taken over the assets, we’re going to relaunch it under new management.

“Unfortunately the most recent problems at the company have overshadowed what was years of quality product being made, years of testing, years of certifications,” he continued. “This product, quality control is going to be our main issue when we relaunch it. We understand that. But at the same time, there’s been enough quality product out there and enough testing on this product to know that it works, to know that it’s good.”

Asked which tests have been conducted, and who conducted them, Wolfe said, “There have been various tests that have occurred on the fire resistance aspect of it… There are other tests in regards to its strength that are done. I can’t tell you exactly when and where they were. I have them, but that’s kind of like company information. I promise you when its gets relaunched, it’s going to be done in a way that people will know the product they’re getting is exactly how it’s represented.”

Wolfe said that negotiations were currently underway to line up a producer, and that while there was no firm timetable in place, he hoped production might start by the end of the year.

Asked whether ASM had a PR strategy for reintroducing a product that’s had so many well-publicized problems, Wolfe said, “I don’t need to. People are looking for this product. I’ve had numerous organizations tell me if I can make it, they’ll buy it. And they know all about the quality control, but they also know that was the old management. The new management won’t have those problems.”

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