Taking wood buildings to new heights

One way that Canada can mitigate climate change is by using construction materials made of wood from sustainably managed forests, instead of using traditional building products with greater associated greenhouse gas emissions. Innovative engineered wood-based products developed in recent years (such as mass timber) are making it possible to construct mid-rise and tall wood buildings – 6, 10 and even 18 storeys high.

These engineered wood products have enhanced strength properties, making them equivalent in many ways to those of steel and concrete. But they take less energy to manufacture and produce fewer emissions and pollutants over the course of their life. As well, they are made from a renewable resource: not only do trees absorb carbon as they grow, and store the carbon in the wood after they are harvested, but Canada’s sustainable forest management practices ensure that harvested trees are replaced.

Until 2015, the National Building Code of Canada restricted the use of wood to structures to no higher than four storeys. But extensive research and development funded by Natural Resources Canada and conducted by FPInnovations, the National Research Council and the Canadian Wood Council showed excellent performance of wood in taller buildings. As a result, the National Building Code was revised to allow for use of wood in mid-rise wood frame buildings up to six storeys high.

The ease of assembly, cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits of these innovative wood products have since sparked interest in using wood for even taller buildings of 10 storeys and higher. For example, the Government of Canada is supporting construction of an 18-storey wood building – a student residence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (working with the government of British Columbia and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council) – and a 13-storey mixed-occupancy wood building in Québec City (working with the government of Quebec).

Many municipal and provincial governments are trying to curb urban sprawl, and its related environmental impacts, by encouraging developers to construct taller buildings. Today, using wood products can help cities meet their urban density targets, while reducing their environmental footprint and mitigating the effects of climate change. All of which suggests that tall – even high-rise – wood buildings are a win-win solution.

The 18-storey wood building under construction at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Photo credit: naturallywood.com, photographer: KK Law.
The 18-storey wood building under construction at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.
Photo credit: naturallywood.com, photographer: KK Law.