Are more tall wood buildings on the way in B.C.?

Glacier Media Real Estate

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Would you like to live in a tall building made out of engineered wood?

There could soon be a rise – literally – in wooden residential buildings across the province, after the B.C. government announced changes to the provincial Building Code to allow for mass timber structures of up to 12 storeys, up from the previous limit of six storeys.

Brock Commons is an 18-storey student residential building at UBC made out of cross-laminated timber. Image via YouTube

“Mass timber technology allows faster construction where large sections of a building can be manufactured in a plant and then assembled on site,” said housing minister Selina Robinson in the March 13 announcement. “The faster we can deliver the homes that people need, the better for communities right across B.C.”

The benefits of mass timber construction have already started to be embraced by multi-family residential developers such as Adera Development Corporation, which has built a number of six-storey projects using prefabricated cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels. Its latest such project is Virtuoso, a sold-out six-storey condo and townhome development at UBC’s Westbrook Village that won a Georgie Award on March 9 for Best Multi-Family Mid/High-Rise Residential Building.

But there are only a few B.C. examples of wooden buildings over six storeys. UBC’s Brock Commons student housing is a pilot 18-storey residential building constructed out of mass timber. According to the B.C. government, the estimated carbon benefit from the wood used in the Brock Commons building was equivalent to taking 511 cars off the road for a year.

Other construction companies are also embracing mass timber, including laneway home builders such as Rockridge Fine Homes. Rockridge is supplied by B.C.’s leading CLT manufacturer Structurlam – which also provided the CLT for Brock Commons.

Hardy Wenztel, CEO of Structurlam, told Glacier Media in a recent interview, “CLT and other forms of mass timber have been used widely for more than two decades in Europe. Although mass timber is a nascent material here in B.C., we’re at a point where we’re seeing a groundswell of product acceptance in the marketplace – and B.C. is at the North American forefront of understanding and proliferation of the product.”

Wentzel outlined the benefits of mass timber as “building faster, building sustainably, building economically and building higher quality, compared with steel and concrete buildings. We can prefabricate our CLT in a climate-controlled workshop using computer-controlled robots, within a tolerance of a millimetre – compared with steel-framed buildings, where the tolerance can be half an inch.”

It is theoretically possible to build any height of building out of mass timber, even a skyscraper, said Wentzel – but he believes eight- to 10-storey buildings are the “sweet spot” in terms of what’s needed.

Premier John Horgan said in the code change announcement, “Companies like Structurlam are leading the way with innovative engineered wood products that create jobs in the forest sector and opportunity for people in communities throughout B.C. Changes to the national building code that allow for taller wood buildings take effect next year, but we’re not waiting to get started. Our government is ready to work with communities to build safe, secure and green tall wood buildings that will create jobs, grow B.C.’s value-added sector and realize our low-carbon future.”