More Developers are Choosing Wood Over Other Construction Materials

Contemporary apartment building made of wood at Hamburg

A new report in The New York Times outlines how climate change is spurring developers to increasingly choose wood over common construction materials like steel and cement, especially with the rise of cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Laminated wood panels are ultra-strong, and can be used as a primary material for tall wooden buildings. The market for “mass timber” buildings is rapidly growing in the United States and around the world.

“Developers are turning to wood for its versatility and sustainability. And prominent companies like Google, Microsoft and Walmart have expressed support for a renewable resource some experts believe could challenge steel and cement as favored materials for construction.”

“‘We are making huge headway in the U.S. now,’ said Michael Green, a leading mass timber architect for Katerra who is based in Vancouver, Canada, and designed the Catalyst Building and several more in North America.”

“Wood has several advantages over other building materials, including the ability to help curb climate disruption, that are driving the interest, he said. Steel and cement generate significant shares of greenhouse gases during every phase of their production. By contrast, wood stores carbon, offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases. ‘The environmental aspects alone are attractive,’ Mr. Green said. ‘Cross-laminated timber panels are faster to assemble. There’s much less construction site waste.’”

Using wood instead of heavier steel and cement can also save labor costs and come with other benefits.

“Another significant promoter is Hines, a global real estate investment, development and management firm based in Houston. Four years ago, Hines opened T3, a seven-story, 221,000-square-foot, cross-laminated timber office building in Minneapolis also designed by Mr. Green. The wood structure cost $60 million, 5 to 10 percent more than one built with concrete and steel. But the ease and speed of lifting and fitting manufactured pieces into place saves money on labor, said Steve Luthman, a senior managing director at Hines.”

“In addition to the labor savings, tenants are attracted to wood surfaces in work spaces. Hines sold the building in 2018 for $392 a square foot, a record for a Minneapolis office building.”

Eastern White Pine has been found to be structurally sound for use in cross-laminated timber by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, opening the door for this sustainable species to join others currently grown, harvested and processed for use in large mass timber construction projects.

Image via IWBC