A Lighter, Stronger Building Material

By Chantal Hunter
February 2012

Cross Laminated Timber is a well-established construction product in Europe. With the help of Natural Resources Canada, it is poised to make the jump to North America.

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A seven-ply cross-laminated timber panel. Photo Credit: Bill Downing, Structurlam Products Limited

A market-ready forest product is looking to reduce the time and cost of construction for North American builders. Cross-Laminated Timber, or CLT, has been popular in European construction for decades because of its structural properties and cost savings for builders, as well as characteristics that make it appealing to consumers.

CLT is made of layers of timber glued together using hydraulic or vacuum presses. It is strong enough to support a multi-story structure, but is considerably lighter than materials such as concrete.

“Being considerably lighter than concrete, CLT panels are easier and more economical to transport and install,” says Bob Jones, Director, Industry and Trade Division, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).  “The panels can also be prefabricated to the builder’s specifications and delivered to the building site ready to be installed, reducing a building’s construction time and cost.”

Work is underway to update the building codes in Canada and the United States to allow CLT to compete in the residential and commercial construction material markets. Manufacturing capacity is being built up in anticipation of the product’s landfall. It is currently being manufactured in three facilities across the country, with Natural Resources Canada supporting the increased manufacture of the product.

“Being considerably lighter than concrete, CLT panels are much easier and more economical to transport and install.”

Bob Jones, Director, Industry and Trade Division
Natural Resources Canada

Benefits for Consumers

While beneficial to builders, CLT offers also consumers enhanced safety and energy efficiency for their homes. Being strong, flexible and light make it ideal for constructing an earthquake-resistant building system.  In fact, recent tests conducted on a 7-storey building using CLT have shown that it can sustain significant earthquake activity without major damage or collapse.

Buildings using CLT panels are also more energy efficient than those using conventional materials, and the density of the product makes for quieter interiors.  Although it is constructed from wood, the material is highly fire-resistant and maintains remarkable structural integrity under fire conditions.

Bringing the Product to Market

Armed with the knowledge gained from the European experience, FPInnovations, with funding provided by NRCan’s Transformative Technologies Program (TTP), undertook research to adapt CLT for production using Canadian tree species.  FPInnovations also led the development of a peer-reviewed CLT handbook, which provides architects and engineers with detailed technical information for both installation and use.

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UBC Bioenergy facility using CLT Panels under construction. Photo credit: K.K. Law

“The CLT Handbook provides key information related to the manufacturing, design and performance of CLT in construction,” says Glenn Mason, Director General, Policy, Economics and Industry Branch of NRCan’s Canadian Forest Service (CFS). The handbook also includes technical information for the design of CLT systems that follow North American building codes and standards.

In a large scale wood demonstration program, NRCan supported the use of CLT in two projects at the University of British Columbia. “The three-storey Bioenergy Research and Demonstration facility will be the first commercial application of CLT in North America,” says Glenn.  “And, the five-storey Earth Systems Science Building is another example of the possibilities of CLT.”

The product holds enormous potential to expand wood use. In fact, an eight storey building containing 41 apartments was built in London, England.  “This marks the first time that cross-laminated timber was chosen in the UK for an entire multi-storey structure, including the ground floor, which is traditionally constructed from concrete,” adds Glenn.

Work continues to update building codes in anticipation of this versatile and useful product.

For more information on CLT, visit the Canadian Forestry Service web site.

To read about related articles, see Forestry Industry

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