Massive upswings in home renovations and construction of new multi-residential dwellings is set to more than double demand for wood-based panel products such as plywood, plasterboard and in Australia over the next four decades, a new report has found.

In a recent forecast, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) says it expects overall volumes of wood-based panel consumption, including plywood, medium density fibreboard and plasterboard, to more than double from an annual average of 2 million cubic meters in 2010-14 to 4.3 million cubic meters in 2045-49.

Driving this growth, ABARES says, will be long-term increases in multi-residential construction and renovations activity due to wood paneling’s use in in sheathing for walls, roofs and floors as well as in cabinets, mouldings and doors.

ABARES expects annual average numbers of multi-residential dwelling construction starts to double from 55,500 to 98,100 by 2045-49 and the dollar value of renovations to almost triple from $6.83 billion to $20.20 billion – albeit with renovations activity quieting down at the moment after a period of high activity.

In contrast, use of structural sawn wood is expected to increase more slowly due to this type of timber being used in the slower growing market for single-house construction. While construction on single residences is still expected to expand in the coming decades as the population increases, it is expected to do so at a slower rate than multi-residential dwellings.

Indeed, while overall sawn wood consumption is expected to increase from an annual average of 4,991 cubic metres in 2010-11 to 6,374 cubic metres in 2049-50, consumption per capita is expected to drop by almost 17 per cent over this period.

Furthermore, while the proportion of wood panel imports relative to domestic consumption is expected to drop from 18 per cent to 12.7 per cent over the forecast period, that of sawn timber is expected to rise from 16.4 per cent to 22.4 per cent, meaning local producers have an opportunity to capitalise on higher growth rates in panels but around half of even the modest levels of growth in sawn wood will be taken up by imported product.

Of course, these forecasts do not take into account factors such as likely changes in technology.

Advances in use of engineered timbers such as cross-laminated timber, for example, could increase the use of structural wood products in high rise multi-residential developments, in which case the actual demand for sawn timber may turn out to exceed ABARES forecasts.

Outside of construction applications, ABARES expects the use of paper and paperboard forestry products to increase from 4 million tonnes to 7.1 million tonnes over the four decades to 2049/50.