Updated: Feb 17
The construction industry is constantly evolving, and the latest innovation to shake things up is Mass Timber. Mass Timber is an innovative building material that is made from engineered wood products and is changing the way buildings are being constructed. This material has taken the construction industry by storm and is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional building materials such as concrete and steel. Europe has been working with Mass Timber for several decades and the United States is playing catch up. However, our rate of advancement is quickly catching up with our neighbors across the ocean. Several industry experts predict we will soon overcome and surpass Europe in our technical applications and production.
What is it?
Mass Timber is made by bonding layers of wood together to create large, solid panels and beams. These panels and beams are then used to construct buildings - and they are strong, durable, and environmentally friendly. Unlike concrete and steel, Mass Timber is a renewable resource, and it has a smaller carbon footprint than these traditional building materials. This makes Mass Timber an attractive option for those who are looking to build in an environmentally responsible manner. In fact, roughly 50% of the dry weight of wood is stored carbon.
One of the biggest advantages of Mass Timber is its speed of construction. Mass Timber can be erected much more quickly than some traditional concrete and steel systems. This makes Mass Timber an ideal choice for projects that stand to benefit from decreased construction times. Up to 25% reduced construction timelines have been reported on large vertical construction projects. One key speed factor is due to the prefabrication of panels off-site, precut penetrations, and predesigned connection points. These combine to reduce the amount of planning and installation time required on-site and allows construction to proceed at a much faster pace.
In addition to its speed of construction, it is much lighter than traditional building materials, which means that buildings can be built on weaker soil, and without oversized robust foundations. Reducing the engineering requirements of the building foundation can and has resulted in incredible cost savings on projects. Finally, the reduced weight also results in less carbon emissions during transport as less fuel is needed to move the material.
Mass Timber Stands Out
Mass Timber really shines when left exposed on the interior of buildings. Roofs and exterior walls are the most common exposed elements. It reduces the need for drywall, and adds a unique differentiating factor to buildings. Gone are the days of ugly drop ceilings and plain white walls – especially when people are looking to bring more warmth and enjoyment into workspaces and homes. On the investment side, Mass Timber commercial spaces are attracting high-quality tenants that care about their carbon and environmental footprint. Occupying a building that embodies those values has become popular. Several commercial Mass Timber buildings have reported a 10-20% premium in resale and lease rates compared to nearby new construction of similar grade.
In the end, the biggest advantage of Mass Timber is its sustainability. Mass Timber is a renewable resource that is grown and harvested in a responsible manner. Small diameter logs are used in the production of Mass Timber, rather than the mature old-growth often harvested for traditional dimensional lumber. This has 2 main advantages. 1st, the trees harvested for production are normally cut and burned/mulched during fire prevention activities. However, with the adoption of Mass Timber these small trees now have economic value creating a financial incentive to practice responsible forest management. 2nd, these young trees grow extremely fast and sequester lots of carbon during that growth. By harvesting these trees and incorporating them into the built environment we can sequester carbon at a fairly rapid rate. The growth, harvest, and replant cycle can be performed multiple times per generation.
The manufacturing process for Mass Timber is also more energy-efficient than the production of concrete and steel, and it generates less waste. Significant preplanning and panel design is performed for all projects, and all panels ordered are specific to a project. This eliminates waste and creates more efficiency in wood fiber utilization. This makes Mass Timber an attractive option for those who are looking to build in an environmentally responsible manner.
Common Types of Mass Timber
The poster child for Mass Timber, cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, are consistently capturing headings. CLT panels are made by stacking layers of wood at right angles to one another, creating a strong and stable structure (think of a Jenga stack). Normally constructed with 3 alternating rows of 2x6 dimensional lumber, these panels can be fabricated in all shapes and sizes. They can be as little as 4 feet wide or up to and surpassing 20 feet, all at custom lengths and thicknesses.
Another Mass Timber product is glue-laminated (glulam) timber and beams, which are made by gluing offset
layers of wood together to create a strong and stable structure. Glulam beams have been popular for a while now and are often seen as the major structural supports in large buildings. They are being used to create large, open spaces in buildings, such as conference rooms and atriums. Significant advances in fabrication and code reform now allow these beams to be used for spans exceeding 100 feet. This allows architects to create new and innovative designs and a connection to nature.
Making Wood Cool Again
Mass Timber is pioneering a renewed interest in wood construction. In the past, wood was often seen as an inferior building material, especially after the major Chicago and San Francisco fires. But with the advent of Mass Timber, this perception is changing. Regarding fire, Mass Timber has been repeatedly tested and shown to have just as good, and in some cases better, fire performance for structural integrity and suppression. There are a multitude of finishing options and products designed to help Mass Timber resist fire as well. Wood is now seen as a high-tech building material, and it is being used to construct buildings that are not only beautiful and functional, but also environmentally responsible.
Governments and regulatory bodies are also recognizing the potential of Mass Timber and are actively promoting its use. In many countries, there are incentives and tax breaks for buildings constructed using Mass Timber, and there is a growing demand for environmentally responsible construction materials. Here in the United States, government funded organizations like the U.S. Forest Service and WoodWorks actively promote and economically incentivize construction with wood, and Mass Timber in particular. This is leading to an increase in the development and production of Mass Timber buildings, making it more accessible and affordable for those looking to build with this material.
Mass Timber is a game-changer in the construction industry. It offers a sustainable, efficient, and innovative alternative to traditional building materials, and it is quickly gaining popularity. With continued research and development, Mass Timber will play an increasingly important role in the future of building here , and it will become a major player in the construction industry. Whether you are an architect, builder, or just interested in sustainable construction, Mass Timber is a material that you should definitely keep an eye on.