Editorial Feature

Mass Timber and its Use in Architectural Planning

The implementation of mass timber in construction projects has the potential to mitigate the construction industry’s carbon footprint. It is comprised of multiple panels of solid wood nailed and glued together, which provides enormous stability and strength.

timber, mass timber, construction, concrete, steel, emissions, carbon footprint

Image Credit: Virrage Images/Shutterstock.com

Mass timber is a very strong and low-carbon substitute for concrete and steel. Consequently, Mass timber buildings have resulted in new and better places for us to live and work. New code changes have been passed for 2021 to allow the construction of buildings up to 18 stories that utilize mass timber.

Mass timber is of great importance in today’s world of mass construction. Mass timber is a substantial alternative for steel and concrete for many reasons, such as it is more cost-effective than alternative forms used in mid- and high-rise buildings.

The material is energy efficient as it requires less energy than buildings using steel and concrete. Buildings using mass timber are constructed much faster and have the potential to replace steel, thereby reducing emissions from those hard to abate sectors.

Well-engineered mass timber products are made in such a way that they can withstand disasters such as fires and earthquakes much better than traditional high-rise constructions. The four products commonly used are glulam, which is glue-laminated timber, nail laminated timber, dowel laminated timber, and the most popular cross-laminated timber.

Concrete and Steel vs Mass Timber

Currently, the major modes used are steel and concrete; these may have not only environmental consequences but economic effects as well. Environmentally, timber is a naturally occurring and renewable source whereas steel and concrete are not.

Steel is an energy-intensive material to produce; additionally, steel mills are major polluters and leave a high carbon footprint across many stages during production. This significantly contributes to greenhouse gases.

Steel is also prone to rust; this is common among buildings in marine environments e.g. bridges, underwater pipes, and other steel marine-related constructions. Weaknesses in the steel members from cuts, scratches, or holes will leave the steel susceptible to rust or damage.

The environmental impacts of concrete production go beyond carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. The consequences include acid rain, which is a result of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. High concentration cement kiln dust poses health risks.

It is expensive to have efflorescence removed, according to research; it costs on average $200 to remove efflorescence from a 150 square foot area of concrete. 

The Benefits of Mass Timber in Construction

Wood is a highly valuable building material that is efficient and renewable, able to be sourced from most regions of the world.

Wood also does not require specialized fabricators in comparison to steel and concrete, which lessens the costs.

Other Developments: Can Fossil Fuel Free Steel Mitigate Construction’s Carbon Footprint?

Usually, manufacturing frames is done off-site, which speeds up construction, further resulting in a reduction in labor costs. When managed in the right manner, timber production may encourage the planting of trees that may benefit the environment by reducing the greenhouse effect and discouraging deforestation.

Limiting Factors Preventing Widespread Use 

Introducing timber as the main construction material would have a negative commercial impact on steel and concrete-related producing industries.

Additionally, industries would have to adjust to the change in method of construction; this would call for adjustments or upgrading industries to products that favor timber construction. This would mean new equipment, recruitment, and the training of personnel to account for the adjustment in production.

The use of mass timber will of course have several limitations. Greater timber use will require larger areas in which trees can be grown. This means timber will have to compete for arable land which can be used to grow crops for food such as rice, corn, vegetables, etc.

Therefore, In countries where land is less available, this would lead to expensive timber products and a shortage of food.

What is Mass Timber?

Video Credit: MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources/Youtube.com

It is also necessary for logging for timber acquisition to be controlled in order to avoid the negative effects of unsustainable deforestation. The potentially positive effects of timber use in construction runs the risk of being offset by habitat destruction and a reduction in trees.  

The timber used in construction is also susceptible to rotting and damage over time as a result of termite action, which compromises the strength of the structural features of buildings.

Creating Aesthetically Pleasing Architecture

Using mass timber has opened the door for creative architectural spaces, utilizing local materials and showcasing cities' culture. One example is the Autodesk office in Portland. The 60,000 square foot building has an entirely wooden interior. The mid-rise building has implemented local resources to reduce the environmental impact and is reflective of the region's roots.

Another example is the commercial outpost in Hood River, Oregon. The exposed industrial design is a three-story building with a glulam beam structure that has the flexibility to be modular. The building is able to accommodate a range of tenants and uses over time, making it superior real estate.

Future Considerations in Mass Timber Construction

Ultimately, the use of timber will benefit the earth and further research is necessary to allow for the formulation of policy to support the use of timber as much as possible as opposed to the traditional use of concrete and steel. Such research can include ways in which timber can be made to last longer and not easily rot and be affected by climatic conditions.

The introduction of mass timber for construction will certainly have some implications for the planet. Sustainable use of timber will result in massive areas of growth for timber which will, in turn, result in the reduction of the already existing carbon dioxide in the air, thereby reducing the construction industry’s carbon footprint—so long as deforestation for timber is controlled.  

Further Reading and References

Think Wood. 2021. Benefits of Using Wood in Construction | Think Wood. [online] Available at: <https://www.thinkwood.com/benefits-of-using-wood>

Structures, T., 2021. Steel vs Timber Construction: Which should you choose?. [online] Tuatara Structures. Available at: <https://tuatarastructures.com/steel-vs-timber-construction/>

civiltoday.com. 2021. Advantages and Disadvantages of Concrete. [online] Available at: <https://civiltoday.com/civil-engineering-materials/concrete/15-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-concrete

Landmark Products. 2021. Timber disadvantages become advantages - Landmark Products. [online] Available at: <https://www.landmarkpro.com.au/timber-disadvantages-become-advantages/>

Koru Architects. 2021. 13 reasons sustainable timber is the best material – Koru Architects. [online] Available at: <http://www.koruarchitects.co.uk/choose-sustainable-timber/>

Naturally:wood. 2021. What is Mass timber? - Design + Construction - naturally:wood. [online] Available at: <https://www.naturallywood.com/topics/mass-timber/>

Vox. 2021. The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood. [online] Available at: <https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/1/15/21058051/climate-change-building-materials-mass-timber-cross-laminated-clt>

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Olivia Hudson

Written by

Olivia Hudson

Olivia has recently graduated with a double bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and Business Management from the RMIT University in Australia. During her studies, she volunteered in Peru to construct wind turbines for local communities that did not have access to technology. This experience developed into an active interest and passion in discovering new advancements in materials and the construction industry.

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