“Developers are turning to wood for its versatile and sustainable features. And prominent companies like Google, Microsoft and Walmart have expressed support for this renewable resource, which some experts believe could challenge steel and cement as favored materials for construction” writes Keith Schneider for The New York Times.
There’s a growing market for mass timber buildings, those constructed of laminated panels, beams and columns. Mass timber is providing low carbon and new design solutions from tall timber towers to long-span roof structures. There’s a reason why. As a building material timber has many advantages.
The cross-laminated panels used in mass timber buildings are made from trees with an average diameter of 12 inches — not from old-growth trees. This makes environmentalists happy. As long as trees are replaced, mass timber is considered a renewable resource. And unlike concrete and steel, timber doesn’t emit greenhouse gases during production. Timber actually stores carbon, offsetting carbon emissions. Timber also has low thermal mass and natural insulating properties, making buildings more energy efficient. And timber is durable and recyclable too.
Economy and flexibility
Timber panels are lightweight when compared to concrete or steel. This makes timber easier and faster to build with and results in significantly reduced labor costs, fewer deliveries by trucks and a cleaner and quieter construction site with less site waste. Timber construction is also easily reconfigured at minimal cost whereas making changes to a concrete or steel structure is much more difficult.
At high temperatures concrete can explode and steel can buckle, but timber forms its own protective layer as it chars, burning slowly. The safety of mass timber buildings has been the subject of many studies and it has also been shown to perform well in earthquakes. As a result, many building code regulators and permitters have relaxed height restrictions for timber buildings
Timber has a natural beauty, vibrancy and warmth that people respond positively to. And it ages well.
In downtown Spokane, the Eastern Washington University has a new home — the Catalyst building. Built by Katerra, a technology company who aims to lower the carbon footprint of construction, the five-story mass timber building is just one of 500 planned or being built in the US. Katerra manufactured the cross-laminated panels at their automated plant on the outskirts of town. This plant is the largest and newest of nine in the US, with another three in development. Since Katerra was founded five years ago, demand for their product has spiked. The Mass Timber Report projects that the number of construction projects could double annually from hereon. Mass timber looks set to take hold as the construction material of choice.
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