Why mass timber is having a moment in construction

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Evelyn Long


3438 Last modified by the author on 21/09/2022 - 15:05
Why mass timber is having a moment in construction

Humans have discovered new and sustainable ways to manipulate wood for higher-efficiency buildings. Mass timber – made of softwoods like pine and spruce – is fabricated to form larger sections. These fit together to form sturdy, environmentally friendly structures.

Global deforestation causes concern among environmentalists and urbanization is increasing at an alarming rate. Despite this, timber is a remarkable renewable resource – and mass timber specifically is having a moment to shine in sustainable construction.

Do the benefits of mass timber propel it as a permanent solution to sustainable building, or is it just a passing trend?

It Reduces Emissions

Concrete and steel are major energy vacuums in construction, making mass timber an excellent opportunity for decarbonizing the industry. Not only does it decrease overall emissions, but it also uses less energy. It could reduce carbon emissions by around 45% compared to concrete.

For mass timber to be genuinely sustainable, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the supply chain must occur. Sustainably managed forests accomplish this. These are the carbon-emitting facets of timber production that sustainable forests need to consider:

  • Rotting plant and food waste
  • Equipment and vehicle use
  • Soil carbon disturbance during logging
  • Inherent carbon sequestered in timber

Sustainable foresters mitigate these factors in numerous ways. They ensure they grow more than they harvest. This keeps biodiversity secure, and carbon conditions are either neutral or improved.

Sustainable forestry also assesses the well-being of other natural resources, such as water, soil, and native land. Producing any material depletes natural resources, affecting parts of the environment by proxy. When the industry plans operations with this in mind, carbon emissions can decrease.

An unexpected reduction in carbon emissions comes from the labor force. Mass timber construction is 25% faster and reduces construction traffic by 90%. More aspects of the process can be delegated to factories and automation, reducing labor costs and wasting fewer materials by crafting more precise amounts. Worker welfare improves and, as a result, buildings are crafted with greater precision and structural integrity.

It Endures Natural Disasters

How is mass timber sustainable? Won’t it be less sound, making it more susceptible to earthquakes? Won’t it cause fires that will be even worse for the environment?

Mass timber has been tested against earthquakes, proving its structural integrity and sturdiness. Though there may still be damage, it is easier to fix than other building materials. Concrete will crack and must be demolished and rebuilt. There aren’t as many repairs with wood and they require fewer resources. Total building demolitions and overhauls could decrease.

Regarding fires, large pieces of wood are tough to ignite. Materials like steel will break and fall more rapidly in a fire, causing damage and flames to spread to more areas. Mass timber will char, but the wood significantly reduces the spread of fire. During tests, it took over an hour and a half for structures to collapse on mass timber sites, compared to 17 minutes for other builds.

Because mass timber is becoming more cost-efficient and mainstream compared to conventional materials, repair expenses will be reduced. Though there are still risks with wood-based buildings, fire codes are being updated and variants of mass timber, like cross-lamination, are being experimented with to improve fire resistance further.

It Gives Buildings More Value

Wood is often considered more aesthetically pleasing than drab concrete or steel. Mass timber could give buildings premiums with real estate agents, increasing property value by at least 4.5%. The variety of wood colors, from rich reds to deep browns, make a more visually enticing building.

Because of wood’s versatility, it is already shining in sought-after interior design elements such as exposed-beam ceilings or hardwood floors. For example, hardwood that is properly cared for with polyurethanes or lacquers has the longevity other flooring does not, making it a great sustainable alternative to cheap tiles or expensive stone.

Apart from mass timber providing visual and potentially financial value to a building, there are also sensory benefits to humans inhabiting these spaces:

  • Eases mental stress
  • Delivers rich acoustics
  • Provides natural scents
  • Enriches natural light

During production, mass timber is inspected to be free of cracks and knots, and then the product is protectively coated. This reduces the effects of off-gassing, which is the chance for chemicals within the materials to leach into the air. This improves air quality in the building and raises resistance to pests by reducing points of entry. It also means structures can withstand industrial cleaning chemicals without ruining the wood.

Sustainable Construction With Mass Timber

With mass timber being a renewable resource, it fits with sustainable goals by assisting in developing a greener economy. It’s more formable than other materials, too, which provides builders with a less labor-intensive experience. 

Creating buildings using mass timber could reduce emissions by a significant margin, beautifying communities all over the world. The concrete jungles that are major cities may become more natural as wooden skyscrapers become the way of the future.

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