This article was originally published in the July 2020 issue of BIV Magazine.
In a May 27 unanimous vote, Vancouver city council approved a staff recommendation to allow mass timber construction up to 12 storeys for residential and commercial uses, doubling the current height limit of six floors.
The city joins 13 other B.C. municipalities that now endorse taller wood buildings more than a year after the BC Building Code was modified to allow taller wood buildings.
The change meant a modification of the Vancouver Building By-law.
“Accepting taller mass timber construction with the building bylaw will make it easier to build with low carbon materials, support future housing affordability and represents an important first step in reducing our carbon pollution from construction,” says the city staff report, noting the manufacture, use and disposal of construction materials represent 11% of global carbon pollution.
Mass timber is made of smaller pieces of lumber, which are laminated together to form engineered structural components for floors, walls, columns and beams.
The timber is significantly more fire resistant than light wood construction, because the wood is covered by one or more layers of gypsum board to meet the minimum amount of fire protection required by building codes.
Studies of mass timber projects have shown a reduction of carbon pollution by 25% to 45% or more during construction. The buildings are also more energy efficient, with wood serving as a natural insulator.
Construction of buildings using heavy timber is not new to Vancouver, with some of the city’s oldest large buildings built with the sturdier lumber.
For example, 361 Water Street – now known as The Landing – was built in 1907 and features solid 18-inch by 18-inch timbers at its base.
More recently, mass timber projects have been approved or are being built at 1250 West Hastings Street and 2150 Keith Drive, home of the new Nature’s Path Foods head office, designed by Dialog architects.
The University of British Columbia’s main campus, which does not fall under city council’s jurisdiction, is home to one of the tallest mass timber buildings in the world: the 18-storey Tallwood House at Brock Commons.
A West Hastings luxury condo project, called Terrace House, will see seven storeys of mass timber built on top of 12 storeys of concrete.
Kelowna, which approved tall timber construction last year, expects to see a 12-storey mass timber hotel, the Ramada by Wyndman Hotel, go up next year.
The leading B.C. developer for cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction is Vancouver-based Adera Development Corp., which uses its proprietary Smartwood CLT system exclusively.
Adera recently completed a six-storey wood project in Coquitlam and has a second nearing completion in North Vancouver, which is among the B.C. cities that endorses 12-storey wood towers.
Adera has 500 homes under construction using Smartwood, according to Eric Andreasen, the company’s senior vice-president and senior operational manager.
Smartwood has a cleaner carbon footprint, with air components to sequester carbon, Andreasen explains. He claims it matches the strength and durability of concrete and steel, but with lower cost and weight. It doesn’t need to be covered with drywall gypsum for fire resistance either.
In addition, CLT is carbon negative and exclusively uses wood from sustainably managed B.C. forests, he adds.
Mass timber also creates a warmer, quieter structure than light wood, he says, adding that it is simply more beautiful than concrete, which makes it an increasingly popular choice for new home buyers.
Adera’s support of mass timber construction has led to B.C. becoming a leader in its manufacturing. Back in 2008 Adera was an original investor in Penticton’s 60-year-old Structurlam Mass Timber Corp., which is now booked solid with orders as the largest mass-timber maker in North America.
Structurlam, in fact, recently published the first U.S. guide for building with mass timber and is currently completing a US$90 million, 280,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Conway, Arkansas, which opens in June 2021. Structurlam also recently signed a contract with Walmart to build the retail giant’s new Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters – a campus of up to a dozen buildings, all built with mass timber and CLT, and covering more than 2.5 million square feet, says Structurlam CEO Hardy Wentzel.
The 130 workers at Structurlam’s first U.S. plant will be Americans, “but they will all be trained by our B.C. staff,” Wentzel says.
This article was originally published in the July 2020 issue of BIV Magazine. Read BIV Magazine: The Sustainability Issue here.