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What is Mass Timber Construction? A Breakdown

The construction of commercial buildings is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. However, there is an increasing need for energy-efficient, green alternatives to materials like concrete or steel in order to construct those buildings. 

But how can companies build with the same strength as concrete and steel while still using sustainable and natural resources like wood? This is where mass timber construction comes in.

Mass timber construction provides a way to create structures as strong as traditional concrete and steel with renewable resources instead. Take a look at what mass timber materials have to offer and how they’re changing the construction world for the better.

What is the Purpose of Mass Timber Construction?

Sustainability is becoming the cornerstone of every industry, and construction is no exception. The building industry accounts for roughly 40% of all carbon emissions in the world, while steel and concrete are responsible for another 10%. A new solution was needed, which was the primary catalyst for mass timber production.

Lumber sourced specifically for mass timber construction tends to be the most sustainably harvested. The lumber also typically comes from traditionally sustainable tree species, such as eastern white pine. 

Two saplings are planted per tree harvested, providing an investment in the forest’s health and longevity and a reassurance that the forest will continue to create new resources.

Building with mass timber isn’t necessarily a cheaper alternative, but it does have advantages that alleviate some of the typical cost concerns. For example, the materials are significantly less heavy than concrete or steel, resulting in lower shipping costs. 

It’s also much easier for smaller workforces to install timber, which can lower labor costs. Overall, there’s a lot to be saved in both time and cost when building with mass timber.

The Strength of Mass Timber

How does ordinary timber become such an extraordinary resource for commercial buildings? Mass timber is unique in that it’s a combination of multiple load-bearing wood panels. 

The manufacturers bind them together using nailing or gluing to provide superior strength. These panels are so durable that they can withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, despite weighing significantly less than concrete buildings.

Fire Resistance

Stringent building code requirements mean that mass timber must also meet a building’s fire safety standards. But despite being primarily made of wood, mass timber buildings can be even more fire resistant than other materials, especially compared to stick-built structures. 

This extra resistance is all thanks to the heavily compressed timber, making it difficult for the fire to burn through long enough to significantly damage the infrastructure.

Natural Resilience

Trees endure a lot in nature, so it makes sense that wood would be naturally strong. But it also acts as a way to insulate the building. Preserving the building’s internal temperature is essential for energy expenditure and ensuring the cost-effectiveness of heating or cooling the building. 

Options for Mass Timber Building

Certain woods work especially well over others for mass timber construction. A good example would be white pine, proven by a study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as an ideal sustainable building material for mass timber construction. eastern white pine, specifically, was shown to be excellent for cross-laminated timber. 

While white pine is one of the best options, many other types of wood also make strong mass timber. Douglas fir, spruce, and other pines are all ideal substitutes for white pine. Many mass timber options are composed of different pine, spruce, and fir lumber combinations.

The Verdict on Mass Timber Construction

There’s a need in every corner of manufacturing to make better, more sustainable choices. And for construction, using mass timber from trees like spruce or white pine is a step in the right direction. This relatively new wood product offers exceptional stability and strength similar to concrete, but without the high cost of the carbon footprint. 

As mass timber construction becomes more prevalent, the process will likely become even more streamlined, leaving prices more reasonable and the building industry’s impact on the environment much more positive.