Taller and Larger Wood Buildings
The opportunity for new, larger and taller wood buildings is now being recognized as a viable option in Canada by the design and building community, and made possible by the evolution of wood products and building systems. These resources help support and help advance this exciting revolution in design and building.
BC is leading the way in Canada by adapting to upcoming building code changes that will allow the construction of taller wood buildings. The height limit for wood buildings in British Columbia is increasing upwards to allow 12 storeys, up from the current six storeys in an initiative to spur development using timber. BC is adjusting its building code upwards to allow the construction of taller wood buildings as a safe, economic and environmental alternative to concrete apartments and office buildings. BC’s building code changes come one year ahead of expected changes in the national building code, which are also expected to increase height limits for wood buildings to 12 storeys. This comes after years of industry and government-supported research and pilot projects, including the 18-storey Brock Commons Tallwood House, which was completed in 2017 and was the world’s tallest hybrid timber building at the time of construction.
Pushing the envelope of wood use in even taller buildings comes with challenges. Authorities having jurisdiction and oversight of the approval process for a new generation of tall wood building designs require comprehensive scientific data to evaluate their safety since there are no prescriptive provisions in the Canadian building codes to permit them. Until such a time as building codes establish provisions for tall wood buildings, performance aspects of their design must be proven on a design-by-design basis. It’s important to note that building codes require all building systems to perform to the same level of safety, regardless of the material used in construction. Wood meets and, in some cases, exceeds code requirements.
Construction Site Fire Response: Preventing and Suppressing Fires During Construction of Large Buildings
Construction sites present fire departments with a different set of challenges from those associated with completed buildings. The construction stage is the most dangerous point in any building’s lifespan due to a number of risks, which are outlined in this report along with fire prevention and suppression response. Research in 2014 demonstrated that wood buildings are as safe as those built with steel and concrete when effective fire-safety systems are in place. However, like all buildings, wood buildings are more vulnerable to fires when they lack those systems – as is the case during construction. The introduction of taller wood buildings increases both the complexity of fire protection at construction sites, and the potential for fire loss or for fire loss.
Recently, Vancouver architect Michael Green issued a report entitled Tall Wood, arguing that skyscrapers and other tall buildings should use more wood as a primary construction material. His argument is that wood is up to the task, is less polluting, and is more environmentally sustainable than the materials currently used. Green’s (2012) buildings would employ “massive timber” elements such as cross-laminated timber, laminated strand lumber, and laminated veneer lumber. Green is not suggesting that these tall building be of wood only. Rather, he is arguing that mass timber be integrated with other commonly-used structural materials such as concrete and steel.
The construction of mass timber buildings is garnering significant interest throughout the Canadian building industry. While building with mass timber has existed for many years in many European countries, the move towards the use of mass timber for larger and taller buildings in Canada is based on the growing popularity of engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated timber (glulam). Some of the benefits of using these relatively new construction materials include design aesthetics and positive environmental impacts. These materials also lend themselves well to prefabrication and may drastically reduce construction time and costs.
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Heavy timber construction has a long history of use in buildings up to and including 8-storey buildings still in use in both Vancouver and Toronto. Although heavy timber has been the preferred material for construction of large buildings at the turn of the last century, it fell out of use in the middle of the last century due to building codes that were introduced to the country with strict requirements for combustible construction. However, there is now a renewed interest for wood in large buildings due to the material’s benefits to the environment, ease of workmanship, and the warm and inviting aesthetics.
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Case Studies on Taller and Larger Wood Buildings
Wood WORKS! BC recently released a case study on Brock Commons Tall Wood House, a new 18-storey mass timber hybrid student residence at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Now an iconic tall wood building in Canada, it currently stands as one of the tallest contemporary hybrid mass timber structures in the world. This 54-metre tall building, featuring an innovative mass timber structural system using cross-laminated timber, demonstrates economic viability, repeatability and adaptability for other building types and uses. The study, funded by Natural Resources Canada, provides a technical overview of the building, the design and construction process, and explores the wood innovations which could become templates for future taller wood buildings. It also addresses both active and passive fire protection strategies.
With a height of 29.5 metres, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) is the tallest contemporary wood building in North America. Located in the city of Prince Goerge in northern BC, the WIDC was conceived as a showcase for local wood products and as a demonstration of the province’s growing expertise in the design and construction of large wood buildings. It also references fire safety during construction and in-service fire safety.
Mid-Rise Buildings in BC
More than 300 light wood-frame and hybrid mass timber mid-rise multi-family residential projects are in planning, under construction and completed in BC, adding an exciting new dimension to our built environment. Fire and building officials can learn more about this new building type and the wood materials used, including a new generation of engineered wood products and building systems. When the 2009 changes to the BCBC increased the permissible height for wood residential buildings, they also applied several of the existing requirements for residential buildings of non-combustible construction over four storeys. There are new opportunities for wood use in mid-rise (five and six storey) residential construction now due to the BC building code revisions in December of 2018, including mixed-use development which will add to the already growing number of higher density (mid-rise) residential buildings being realized in our urban areas. Two mid-rise case studies and a Best Practice Guide reference fire information and building systems solutions.
Wood WORKS! BC together with BC Housing are pleased to release the new Mid-Rise Best Practice Guide – Proven Construction Techniques for Five and Six-Storey Wood-Frame Buildings. This comprehensive guide features five innovative BC projects representative of the diverse and varied application of new techniques and best practices for mid-rise wood-frame construction. This publication is available now: www.wood-works.ca/bc
Modern six-storey light-frame wood construction in British Columbia (BC) incorporates highly-detailed, researched and safe solutions. The engineering technology being adapted in the province is potitioning BC at the forefront of the North American wood-frame construction industry. This case study outlines mid-rise building solutions, including wood building systems and fire performance.
With wood frame construction recognized as a key component in the long-term mitigation of climate change,
the technology is being asked to deliver larger buildings that are more durable and use less energy over their
service life. As The Heights, King Edward Villa and Virtuoso have demonstrated, light wood frame construction, in pure or hybrid form, can meet or exceed these new expectations. The success of these projects sets an important precedent.
American Wood Council Manuals
Additional resources from the American Wood Council