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Reaching New Heights: Tall Wood Buildings Gaining Public Support

Maybe it is because of my job at the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), but I have noticed over the past few months an increase in the number of articles about the new and creative uses of wood in construction. And more importantly, about the economic and environmental benefits from greater use of wood products in construction.

The first article came to my attention on Facebook earlier this spring. An old school friend of mine shared a Popular Science article published in February. It is very well written and like any good Popular Science article, it explains the engineering and science behind using wood materials for tall building construction. It provides an overview of the history of wood construction in urban centers and offers some details (including pictures and diagrams) of the particular attributes of the nine-story building in East London called Stadthous made from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and wood components.

The article summarizes the benefits of wood construction for tall buildings in a couple of sentences: "Compared with steel or concrete, CLT, also known as mass timber, is cheaper, easier to assemble, and more fire resistant, thanks to the way wood chars. It's also more sustainable. Wood is renewable like any crop, and it's a carbon sink, sequestering the carbon dioxide it absorbed during growth even after it's been turned into lumber."

This Popular Science article goes on to explain that the carbon sequestered by the wood in this London building is about 186 tons while the amount of carbon produced in making enough steel or concrete necessary for a similar nine-story building would be 123 tons.

Another article in April by Eco-Business Magazine spoke of the environmental benefits of building with wood. Based on a study in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, the author explains that using wood as a building material has a lighter carbon footprint than steel or concrete.

"The savings on concrete and steel happen because about 16 per cent of global fossil fuel consumption is accounted for by the manufacture of steel, concrete and brick. Factor in the need to transport building materials and that brings the fossil fuel share to between 20 per cent and 30 per cent. So wood-based construction consumes less energy."

In the Toronto Star on July 4th Bryan Tuckey, the President of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) wrote an article about changes to the Ontario Building Code which will allow for six story mid-rise wood frame construction. I met with Bryan during a recent visit to Toronto and he explained to me that with the amount of redevelopment potential in the urban corridors of the Greater Toronto Area ? roughly 160 kilometers of high density potential? the option to build with wood is something the construction industry believes will create efficiencies on urban construction sites and help reduce traffic congestion.

The Ontario Building Code process will insure that appropriate safety standards are in place and Tuckey says once the building industry develops the experience with these new standards, the cost of construction will come down. So, the greater use of various wood products and components in construction can result in savings both in terms of time on the building site and overall construction costs.
Other provinces have either changed their building code to permit the use of wood in taller buildings or are in the process of updating and modernizing their building code. There has also been an extensive review of the National Building Code. Technical experts have proposed a number of changes to permit more use of wood in mid-rise construction and we anticipate those changes are on track for the 2015 edition of the National Building Code.

A fourth article published right here in Ottawa Life magazine titled "Canada's Greatest Natural Resource Continues to be Our Global Advantage" explained some of the technical advantages of building with new engineered wood products like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL).

So newspapers, lifestyle magazines, Popular Science and online environmental publications are all talking about the new and exciting opportunities to work with wood in construction. The engineering benefits, the cost savings and the environmental benefits of building with wood are becoming more and more appreciated.

However, as with any new technology, it takes time for people in industry to understand the benefits and learn how to take advantage of the opportunity. To help this education process FPInnovations has published a: "Technical Guide for the Design and Construction of Tall Wood Buildings in Canada". This isn't a publication I would recommend for your summer reading list ?it is targeted for architects and builders. Nevertheless, it is exciting to know that wood as a construction material is experiencing a renaissance.

As part of our own Construction Value Pathway project here at FPAC we identified the growth potential in the global construction industry as an eight trillion dollar market growing at about eight percent per year. The more we can reduce the carbon impact of this global construction boom the better for our environment.

Built to appropriate safety standards, wood construction results in cost savings, environmental benefits, and is esthetically pleasing. What more could you want from Canada's green renewable resource?

 Source: President's Blog / The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)

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