Mass Timber: Good For The Economy, Good For Sustainability

Mass timber is a term to describe a category of framing styles which typically uses large panelized solid wood construction.  The most popular of which are cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber, glue-laminated timber, and dowel-laminated timber.


CLT is comprised of 3, 5 or 7 layers of lumber, glued together; it’s benefits are strength, stability and rigidity.  Surprisingly to many people, mass timber is considered a sustainable material; there are two main reasons that mass timber is considered to be sustainable: quicker construction and a reduced carbon footprint.  Mass Timber also uses less water and energy to manufacture when compared to steel or concrete. Its lighter too, so less fuel is wasted in transport; less concrete is needed to create buildings’ foundations as well.  Another benefit of using mass timber is economic; logging and milling industry analysts are excited at the possibility of bringing back lost jobs. There is no reason to import foreign steel when you can support local companies creating jobs in your community, using materials created locally.


In the Pacific Northwest, teams are working together in Portland to assemble the world’s tallest all-wood building; the building is slated for 12 stories.  Mass timber has been around in different forms for centuries, but in the past, if you wanted to build big, you’d need big trees. The new techniques to create mass timber combines small trees to create a product with similar or even greater strength than the large trees used in the past.


CLT was invented about 20 years ago in Europe and was a significant improvement in strength over the dowel laminated beams already being used which can often be seen in exposed ceiling trusses.  CLT is also built on demand, which means that exact specifications for each project are taken into consideration and arrive at the construction site with holes for windows, interior tunnels for wiring and interlocking grooves which allows pieces to lock into place.  Because the CLT is specially fabricated, less wood is wasted in the production of buildings than in wood products of the past. This technology has lead to a boom in global wood construction.


The Wood Products Council of Oregon reports that by the end of 2018 it expects to be supporting more than 300 projects, but there are still major challenges facing its wide adoption.  For one, federal forests and even most private forests already produce at capacity, it is believed that the sustainability of mass timber could make it easier to get the support of environmentalists, but there are still plenty of hurdles to cross.  Research also suggests that mass timber has advantages of being able to hold up to fire, earthquakes and other disasters, but it could take years for building codes to change. Mass Timber represents a promising development in the future of construction and the future sustainable economy of building; it is exciting to see what the future holds for this innovative material.

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