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British Columbia pushing height limit for wood structures, cross-laminated timber

Jean Sorensen

Wood structures taller than the six-storey limit imposed by the B.C. Building Code are possible in the near future as the provincial government continues its push to promote the use of wood as a building material. British Columbia is pushing for more cross laminated timber construction.


Wood structures taller than the six-storey limit imposed by the B.C. Building Code are possible in the near future as the provincial government continues its push to promote the use of wood as a building material.

Those structures, if built, will be in range of nine to 12 storeys, British Columbia’s former minister of Forests, Mines and Lands, Pat Bell, said while he was still the minister.

Prince George would be a “logical” location, he added, as the government in 2009 promised to build a Wood Innovations and Design Centre.

Bell said he has since talked about using cross laminated timber (CLT) construction in such a building.

“The Innovations and Design Centre would be a logical place to apply a new building method and show how wood could be used in innovative design,” he said.

It would also showcase value-added wood products.

The governing Liberal Party has developed a three-prong strategy to utilize more B.C. wood.

It includes opening up the China market, allowing construction of wood buildings up to six storeys and implementing a policy for using wood in provincial buildings.

Bell said the Prince George Innovations and Design Centre would also be iconic, as it would demonstrate B.C. engineering and architectural abilities.

The Canada Wood Council and Crown Corporation Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd., (which report to the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands) have jointly provided funding to Vancouver-based mgb Architecture to research the viability of a 12-storey wood hybrid building in Vancouver.

The results of the report, being prepared by Michael Green, a principal in the firm, are to be handed over to the sponsoring agencies by March 31.

While the terms of the contract cited Vancouver as a location, Bell said he isn’t concerned about the location and Vancouver was used only as a reference in Green’s feasibility report.

The B.C. government has actively been pushing CLT construction, as it would utilize mountain pine beetle wood and hemlock.

While no forest companies currently manufacture the panels, Bell said he believes that would change if CLT construction occurred.

Even a 12-storey CLT building proposal is still a stretch, as Green’s findings would have to go through a peer review, as well as other regulatory bodies.

Yet, Marjan Popovski, senior scientist and structural engineer with FP Innovations, a forest products research body located at the University of B.C. campus, said he believes that such buildings are achievable.

FP Innovations has studied CLT construction for the past five years and issued a handbook on CLT construction verses the “platform” construction used on six-storey wood buildings in B.C., he said.

“CLT has been used in Europe for the last 20 years (including high rise buildings),” he said.

“There is research available on the performance such as various loading conditions, seismic, and gravity.”

Such information would serve as a guide, but not as a standard.

Any structure built in B.C., using CLT would have to tolerate Canadian conditions and meet Canadian building code standards.

Popovski pointed out that building codes set out an objective path for meeting a standard.

However, codes are written so that if innovative design or new products allow those standards to be met, the building can still gain approval from regulatory bodies.

Others in the industry expect to see higher wood structures in the future.

“I can see it coming — not 30 storeys, but maybe 10. Maybe it won’t happen this year or next, but it will happen,” said David Davey, president of the Structural Engineers Association of B.C.

He said that at one time it was not believed that six-storey wooden structures would be possible.

B.C. contractors have embraced building six-storey wood structures since the 2010 code changes.

“There is something like 40 to 50 mid-range six-storey wood structures going on now,” said Mary Tracey, executive director of Wood WORKS! BC.

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