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Cross laminated timber building costs are competitive: study

Russell Hixson
Cross laminated timber building costs are competitive: study

Cross laminated timber (CLT) construction is cheaper than conventional methods, but not by much, a new study shows. However, the study predicts that in the future, building material could get a lot cheaper.

The study, the first of its kind, was conducted by Mahlum, Walsh Construction and Coughlin Porter Lundeen Engineering to determine the feasibility of CLT construction in the Pacific Northwest, mainly focusing on Seattle.

The study states that CLT means fewer skilled labourers are needed, shorter construction times, better tolerances and quality, safer work, and utilization of local and sustainable materials.

It was also found to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.

"As a new, unproven material in the Pacific Northwest, this study investigates the competitiveness of CLT versus traditional materials for low high-rise buildings," it states.

The study defined "low high-rise buildings" as being taller than 75 feet but shorter than 125 feet.

When compared to the base 10-storey concrete building, the CLT option offered an estimated four per cent cost saving.

Lynn Embury-Williams, executive director of Wood WORKS!BC said that while four per cent is not significantly cheaper, it shows that CLT is definitively competitive.

Embury-Williams said the biggest savings come from building times.

"The key is having the building expertise. Once contractors really become familiar with this system I think the cost savings will continue," she said.

There is also an issue of supply.

Embury-Williams said that for all of western North America, there is only one company making CLT materials –Structurlam in Penticton, B.C.

Some builders purchase from KRH based in Austria, which is considering a North American branch.

"It’s a relatively new product, certainly demand has been building for it," Embury-Williams said.

"It looks like the demand over here is occurring in a similar way as it had in Europe."

She believes that next year’s update to the national building code could surge the use of CLT and wood building ahead.

Five years ago, B.C. allowed six-storey residential wood buildings.

This resulted in more than 50 structures being built and another 250 are in the planning stages.

Ontario recently altered its building code to allow for six-storey wood residential structures.

New national codes will allow for six-storey wood buildings with mixed use. The commercial, office and retail construction will require much more wood technology than residential, which will push the industry forward, she said.

"It will bring another whole segment of the market into wood construction," Embury-Williams said.

"That’s our next big thing."

The provinces still have to decide if they want to adopt the changes, but Embury-Williams said she is optimistic B.C. would do so.

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