Building with CLT brings some of the challenges that come along with any new endeavor — financial hurdles, ups and downs in public support, and consistency, to name a few. It’s critical to understand and address these issues, but it’s equally critical to not lose sight of the documented, real-world benefits of building with timber in the process.
Mid- to high-rise CLT construction is a relatively new concept in the United States. But in Europe and Canada, it’s been proven over the past two decades as a safe, durable, resilient replacement for concrete — particularly in the case of earthquakes.
There are benefits to building with CLT that can’t be ignored in this time of dramatic climate change. As with any innovation, perfecting the practice of building with CLT requires time, testing and a learning curve for all stakeholders. Now is the time to come together for much-needed change.
Many builders in Portland, the Pacific Northwest and across the United States are working to make inroads with this promising, sustainable material. These efforts are cumulative, are building momentum and ultimately benefit everyone, including the residents of our growing cities and the rural communities that desperately need economic stimulus.
By working to advance CLT, architects, manufacturers, developers, legislators and environmentalists are transforming the building industry by making it more sustainable. Together, they are part of a bigger vision that will help reinvigorate the region’s timber economy while increasing resilience, environmental sustainability, fire resistance and seismic safety in our cities.
I am really excited about this building because I think it represents the future. (CLT) will create jobs in our timber-dependent rural communities, which is absolutely critical to Oregon’s economy and to our environment.
— Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon
How We Build Matters
According to Ed Mazria, with Architecture2030, due to the rapid urbanization trend occurring internationally, the majority of the world’s cities will double in size by the year 2060. That equates to roughly 230 billion square meters of building area that is to be built within 40 years. As architects, owners, developers and general contractors, the most critical question that we need to ask ourselves is “what building material are we going to select to achieve this objective?” Will we choose significant carbon-generating processes such as concrete and steel, or resolutely turn to the only renewable structural frame material available, mass-timber?
In addition, CLT opens up an opportunity for more skilled labor, an increase in domestic manufacturing, and safer, quieter, and more efficient job sites. As the industry becomes mainstream, the knowledge base will grow, making mass timber not only faster and more beautiful than other types of construction, but also less expensive. Currently CLT is competitive with other types of construction due to the speed of construction, lower overhead costs and ability to get projects to market faster. Soon, however, with more consistent and available supply based on growing demand, the cost for these materials will drop even more.
Did You Know?
The International Building Code is updated every three years. It undergoes a rigorous, consensus-based process for the development, review and implementation of updated code.
The Future of Building Code
In July 2018, Oregon’s US Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced a nearly half-million dollar US Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Oregon State University for research on the durability of CLT. This is a significant testament to its technological promise and its potential economic benefits for our region. The work that universities, researchers and professionals are undertaking provides a deeper scientific base on which building code changes are built.
Carbon12 had to go through a performance-based approval process to prove code and safety equivalency according to current building code. In doing so, it set a precedent for future tall wood buildings and building code. New mass timber buildings across the nation can now be designed, permitted and built without barriers.
With advances in building code coming nationally in 2021, mass timber construction is poised to grow exponentially. The shift to a prescriptive code path will significantly reduce the time and cost of developing with CLT. Currently many US cities are permitted to build with wood up to five stories. The new building code for tall mass timber buildings will allow up to 18 stories. Oregon and Washington have already adopted the Tall Wood Building code provisions, and more jurisdictions around the country are looking at doing the same.
As research, testing and demand for mass timber buildings increases, refinements to this code will be made, ultimately falling into the typical code revision process like any other building material.
Momentum is gathering for this transformative material, and the moment is now. We all, therefore, need to band together in every possible way.
— Ben Kaiser, Owner & Principal, Kaiser+Path
CLT is a unifying material, bringing together unlikely allies: foresters and environmentalists, architects and manufacturers, contractors and researchers. This diversity of perspectives can create meaningful change and inspire innovation.
Combined with other large-scale efforts, including significantly increasing the tree coverage around the world, building with mass timber can be part of the climate solution. The sustainable management of forests not only helps the environment, but is also critical to the continued economic prosperity of the rural communities relying on those forests for income. Sustainable management can feed a more sustainable building stock, and connect people to nature in a more direct way, compelling them to take positive action on their own.
Environmental sustainability isn’t the only benefit to using mass timber at a larger scale. The economic opportunity it reintroduces into rural timber economies can help bridge the urban-rural divide that is so prevalent today. Much like the farm-to-table movement, mass timber is a forest-to-city way of building. Having a better understanding of where our building materials come from, who the stewards of the forests are, and how sustainable forestry can lead to healthy buildings will help all the stakeholders find common ground.
The USDA Forest Service acts as a catalyst, supporting the emerging mass timber industry through high impact investments that help create a market for material from overstocked forests.
— Melissa Jenkins, Innovation Manager, USDA Forest Service
The Time Is Now
This website is meant to arm the reader with the basic information needed to pivot to carbon-sequestering materials in our built environment. Whether in Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, or any of the large and small cities in-between, it is time to design and build using mass timber.
There is a case to be made that an empty site has a higher carbon footprint than a site with a mass timber building on it. This may be a stretch but while building with these materials, the structure is storing carbon and keeping it from entering the atmosphere.
Every day there are new stories of a warming climate. The days of climate change being theory are now fact. Something must be done or the human experiment will continue down a perilous path.
It is time to leap forward. We do not have another minute to spare.