4 Reasons Why Wood Will Revolutionize Your Residential Development

More than 38 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. are the result of building construction and their usage according to the U.S. Green Building Council. One surprising way to reduce this is using wood to build mid to high-rise commercial and residential buildings. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) can reduce carbon emissions, cut costs of labor, provide a fire-resistant alternative to steel or concrete and enable more flexible design.

1.  Enviornmentally-Friendly

Cross-laminated timber reduces carbon emissions. As trees mature, decay and die off, they slowly discharge once-stored carbon into the air. When these trees are used in CLT products, carbon remains stored inside the wood for the lifetime of the structure. Unlike non-combustible materials, wood can be reclaimed or reused in other projects.

A misconception about building wood-framed structures is that it depletes our natural resources, but in fact, the exact opposite is true. The lumber industry has protected our forests in this country so that this natural resource will remain at a constant level. The USDA has published a report that illustrates this constant level from 1907 to 2007. [1]

2.  Lightweight and Cuts Costs

Lightweight materials like cross-laminated timber are easier to transport and install. This reduces carbon emissions and decreases labor costs. Lighter materials also reduce the mass of the building and require less foundation, resulting in additional cost savings. After completing what they believe to be is the “world’s largest cross-laminated timber building”, London’s Waugh Thistleton Architects determined their resulting structure was five times lighter than if it was made from concrete. [2]

3.  Flexibility in Design

When building with traditional materials, designers “clothe” the building's exterior and interior with aesthetically-appealing materials to hide unattractive concrete or steel. Wood in its natural state is a beautiful tool to construct with. 

4.  Fire-Resistant

The most popular misconception of wood construction is flammability. Studies have shown that cross-laminated timber can last an hour longer than code requirements in a fire situation, in many cases even longer than concrete and steel. [3] While steel buckles and concrete spalls, cross-laminated timber forms a charred-protective layer extinguishing fire from its surface and upholds the structure for an extended period.

Cross-Laminated Timber and its Current Status

Canada, Sweden and Australia are a few of the countries to have approved building with cross-laminated timber for up to 25 stories in their specific building codes. It has even been projected that CLT can be used for buildings to 40 stories in height. A committee was formed by the International Code Council to study CLT and is planned to submit proposals this year for changes in the 2021 International Building Code. [4]  Currently, developers and architects work with city code officials to get approval to use this product in their buildings.

In the United States, several CLT buildings have already been approved like the seven-story Minneapolis office building, the 16,000-square-foot office building in Portland and the design building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Recognizing the ability for this new product to allow architects to provide a carbon-reducing footprint, less costly, flexible and fire-resistant alternative should inspire our industry to continue to pursue creative solutions.


[1] https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/ja/ja_sheffield004.pdf