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Tall mass timber construction gains momentum as more B.C. municipalities approve projects

Russell Hixson
Tall mass timber construction gains momentum as more B.C. municipalities approve projects
ADERA — Crews work on Adera Development’s Crest, a mass timber housing project in North Vancouver.

The City of New Westminster is eager to take tall wood construction to the next level.

Recent city council documents show officials have been getting requests about tall mass timber construction from developers after the province began rolling out an early adoption program for 12 storey mass timber buildings.

Other cities, like Coquitlam and Delta are also looking at allowing taller wood construction. So far, the province’s early adoption program has more than a dozen cities signed up. The program allows municipalities to approve encapsulated mass timber projects above the current six storey limit in anticipation of upcoming revisions to the National Building Code.

Eric Andreasen, vice-president of marketing and sales for Adera Development, believes the construction sector in B.C. is on the verge of a tipping point for mass timber buildings as more developers and municipalities embrace it.

Adera had been one of the early adopters of mass timber construction, developing their own proprietary mass timber materials and systems like Quiet Home and SmartWood. They also are a shareholder in Structurlam, a mass timber product manufacturer based in Penticton.

“The province has had an interest in this for a while but hadn’t gotten a lot of traction,” said Andreasen. “But then COVID happened.”

Andreasen said the province saw an opportunity for the construction industry, one of the largest sectors of employment. He explained promoting mass timber construction not only helps builders but can help the hard-hit forestry sector.

“Like anything new, there is an acceptance curve,” said Andreasen. “Municipalities are moving cautiously and following the lead of the province. Suppliers and architects and engineers are expanding their business perspective to include mass timber. But it takes some additional time and understanding.”

Adera began its first mass timber project in 2017 and has since learned some lessons on how to unlock the benefits.

“There are early adopters for anything,” said Andreasen. “Builders have to have a reason why. The cost of material is more expensive than conventional, but the timelines of project is shorter dramatically. When you get all things working properly, you can save a lot of money and overall the costs will not be far off from a standard build. The benefit’s there. The biggest thing is to get customers, the people living there to accept it.”

One of the early lessons Adera learned was in the design stage.

“The biggest lesson we learned was to design it as a mass timber building,” he said. “Our first one designed as conventionally-framed structure and then we converted it. That was a massive pain. Things don’t work the same way. We had to go back and redesign things.”

The other major lesson was to include trade contractors early on so they can understand how mass timber construction differs from more conventional projects.

“You don’t have beams holding it together,” said Andreasen. “It is mass timber panels so you can run straight lines of electrical or plumbing.”

With limited space and the rising price of land, Andreasen said developers are going to have to build higher and mass timber is a way to do it quickly and easily in dense urban areas.

“Lots of projects are being contemplated and I think you will start to see lots of builders commit,” he said.

Adera has committed to building 1,000 new homes in the Vancouver region by 2025 using mass timber. It currently has two mass timber condo projects nearing completion. Crest is comprised of 179 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and two-bedroom city homes located in the central Lonsdale District in the City of North Vancouver. Duet is a collection of 72 one-, two- and three-bedroom urban flats in Coquitlam.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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