Wood structure buildings on the rise

When MDM Construction designed Legacy on Park Ave., the luxury condo building’s eye-catching arched shape simply could not be achieved by conventional framing. The only way the builder could accomplish its curved “flying” balconies was to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels.

Not only does Legacy on Park Ave. have the distinction of being the Fraser Valley’s first CLT residential development, the Canadian Wood Council confirms it is also the first building in Canada to use a laminated wood firewall.

“The accuracy of those curves couldn’t be done on site, therefore the use of CLT construction was very much driven by its unique design,” says Marvin Job, president of MDM Construction. “The great by-product of us using the prefabricated engineered wood panels is that it’s an eco-conscious alternative to traditional materials like concrete, which leaves a large carbon footprint.”

A strong contender

According to Hardy Wentzel, the CEO of North America’s leading mass timber manufacturer, B.C.-based Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation, CLT is made by stacking several sheets of glued engineered wood like a sandwich in alternating layers, which gives it incredible strength.

“This cross-lamination provides stability, strength and rigidity, which is what makes CLT a viable alternative to concrete and steel in many applications,” says Wentzel, adding its wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests.

“Think of CLT like the skin of the building. It can be used for walls, roofs, floors, beams and columns. Builders are using CLT more and more in multi-family and mixed high-rise buildings.”

CLT was also used to construct the world’s tallest wood structure – the University of British Columbia’s Brock Commons, an 18-storey mixed-use student residence, built using Structurlam’s CLT panels.

“It was an amazing undertaking in mass-timber design,” says Wentzel. “It took up to 63 days to complete the panels.”

Savings to be had

A key benefit of CLT is the ability to design, model and prefabricate the structural elements of a project offsite, which cuts down on-site production schedules compared to traditional on-site building with steel and concrete.

“Legacy’s process was so fast… It took a crew of four to assemble 8,000 sq. ft. of pre-cut CLT panels in one day versus four days with a crew of eight using traditional concrete or steel methods,” says Job. “That is a huge difference. Although CLT is costlier, you are savings on labour costs. You can even erect CLT panels in freezing temperatures, as opposed to concrete, which has to cure first.”

A sustainable option

One of CLT’s biggest proponents is Adera Development Corp.

“Adera has been using CLT construction for six years,” says Eric Andreasen, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Adera.

“By February, we will have 500 homes under construction using CLT. We made a big commitment to use CLT, so much so that we trademarked our building process SmartWood. We see wood as the building material of the future.”

Andreasen went on to explain: “Beyond the superior design capabilities, CLT panels support the environment, reduce the carbon footprint of our structures, which creates healthier homes for the community. In addition to the seismic resilience and positive environmental impact, the CLT panels work to reduce the transfer of heat and noise by approximately 35 per cent the rate of a concrete system.”

One of the biggest misconceptions Adera has addressed several times is the fear of a wood construction and fire.

“The fact is, the multi-layered construction provides better fireproofing and soundproofing,” says Andreasen. “From a safety point of view, CLT is superior.”

In the end, Wentzel says: “CLT isn’t just a cool, fun fad … some of the oldest buildings in the world are timber structures, some in Japan as old as 1,000 years. I guess you can say that wood is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts.”


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