Wood is Good, Part 1
It’s an exciting time to be an Ontario homebuilder that specializes in construction with wood.
As a renewable resource that’s plentiful in Canada, wood is (literally) the natural choice as a building material. But until recently Ontario Building Code (OBC) restrictions on the use of wood above four storeys meant its use was limited – at least vertically.
But that’s now changing.
Mid-rise buildings, or mixed-use structures above four storeys, can now be made with wood frames, thanks to recent amendments to the code, which took effect January 1. The goal of these amendments? To allow designers and builders to create innovative and affordable mixed-use buildings that planners believe can best combat urban sprawl – while adhering to Ontario’s rigorous fire-safety standards.
Mid-rise buildings have been built elsewhere in the world for years using a variety of pre-fabricated wood systems. The most popular is cross laminated timber (CLT), first developed in Europe almost 20 years ago. CLT is an engineered wood panel with layers of lumber oriented at right angles and glued to form panels that have exceptional strength, dimensional stability and rigidity.
CLT is now being utilized in taller wood buildings more and more, notably in the 10-storey Forte in Melbourne, Australia, the world’s tallest timber apartment building.
The first province in Canada to embrace wood over four storeys was British Columbia – which has been making residential-only mid-rise buildings with wood frames since 2009. Now Ontario is poised to grow upwards with wood.
Why choose wood? Unlike steel and concrete, wood captures and stores carbon for the lifecycle of the building product. But there are concerns about its use in the construction of taller buildings. Why? With conventional construction, the larger the building, the longer it takes to build. And vast amounts of timber sitting on sites being compromised by weather or, worse, presenting a fire hazard, is not an ideal situation.
That’s where H+ME Technology comes in. Our process, known as panelization – where walls and floors are built off-site – greatly reduces the time and amount of wood that sit exposed to weather or risk of fire.
Robert Kok, director of research and development for H+ME Technology, says our factory-built process fits perfectly with the industry’s heightened use of wood.
“With the Building Information Modeling (BIM) that we do, you can really fix a lot of things in the 3-D environment before you actually build them,” says Kok. “If don’t have the things worked out ahead of time you could run into a lot of issues, a lot of delays that would affect the cost of building.”
How do taller wood buildings perform over time? There are plenty of mid-rise buildings in Toronto dating back 100 years. There would be even more but the land that they sat on became incredibly valuable, and up went the steel and concrete tower blocks.