Mass timber projects have seen exponential growth in the US over the last year, with a current growth rate of new projects starting once every three days.
Traditionally used for commercial, civic and university projects, today we are seeing a growing demand for mass timber in healthcare and residential projects, as changing building codes now allow for taller construction.
There are countless benefits of using mass timber such as cost efficiency, sustainability, construction time, aesthetics and flexibility, and many people are also recognizing the vital mental health benefits associated with a wood-forward environment.
At Skanska, we have been working in and around mass timber for more than a decade.
We’ve seen how mass timber has sped up construction schedules and reduced cost due to less labor, equipment and tool requirements on a jobsite.
Mass timber buildings are also considerably less weight in comparison to traditional steel and concrete structures.
Therefore, for taller timber structures, there are significant savings in foundations.
Skanska also sees the coming code changes around seismic requirements, which will have significant effects on the lateral systems for projects and can make mass timber even more cost advantageous.
We’ve elevated our commitment to sustainable building by developing structures where wood is both a lower carbon material and renewable resource, lowering a building’s carbon footprint.
And we’ve satisfied clients’ desires for innovative, biophilic design through mass timber’s rustic, natural and desirable aesthetic potential.
Learnings from our work have been shared in the past, and as we look towards the future, I’m reflecting on conversations with some of the most prominent mass timber experts from around the globe.
From those conversations, I’ve identified a series of emerging trends that will impact and drive forward our work for years to come.
Builders must advocate for federal and state initiatives to grow financial incentives that reduce carbon footprints
There is a growing market for financial incentives for owners to utilize carbon-storing and low-carbon materials which turn buildings into carbon sinks, effectively absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than they release.
The quantified carbon offsets are then sold to entities that value the long-term biogenic carbon storage.
The future may see certain local and state initiatives designed to further grow the market for these incentives and help increase attention on building methods with a reduced carbon footprint, such as mass timber.
As builders, it’s important to drive these conversations forward and advocate for financial incentives so the entire industry is working to reduce carbon footprints in the built environment worldwide.
We need industry research and education to navigate insurance needs
Paralleling mass timber’s growth, there is a growing need to insure the construction of mass timber buildings.
As mass timber evolves and becomes more prominent within the industry, there is a huge opportunity to educate current and future clients on what it’s like to occupy a mass timber building.
This will allow us to better understand what can be done throughout design and construction to plan for occupancy, highlighting the lesser-documented realities of acoustics, renovations, and aging of natural structural wood products and more.
Additionally, it’s critical to educate clients and eventual tenants on the productivity and health and wellness benefits of being in biophilic, natural, low-carbon spaces.
Builders must prioritize quality standards and moisture management plans to avoid delays
Quality standards must be in place on our future projects and should start with a moisture management plan.
During construction, it’s extremely important to protect the mass timber from staining or aesthetic impacts associated with water running from top to bottom levels of the building.
This can be accomplished by assuring that unprimed steel is kept away from the mass timber to avoid rust stains, assuring standing water is not left on the decks, and protecting the decks with breathable membranes.
One of the biggest challenges with mass timber projects is addressing the moisture content of the material.
When dealing with moisture at a mass timber building, the builders must consider massive air movements with little to no use of heat.
Gradual heating in mass timber spaces prevents the growth of mold and checking of wood members.
The goal of drying mass timber products is to reach a moisture content of less than 16 percent: never covering mass timber with finished products if the moisture content is higher than 16 percent.
When doing this, consider using a waterproofing product that allows the material to breathe so it can dry at the natural rate of wood.
As builders, when working with our design teams, we must help them develop and incorporate language in the plans and specs that require the project teams to provide a moisture mitigation plan.
Doing so means we’ll not only end up with a better finished product, but also avoid unnecessary delays.
Companies should find the right fabrication partner to fit their project needs
As companies like Skanska move forward with mass timber projects, we will continue to grow our experience in self performing installation of mass timber and limited elements of fabrication.
However, our team will still need project partners to help make mass timber projects successful as each project has its specific needs.
It’s important for us to partner with all-in-one shops, vendors who are purely beam and column manufacturers, or other fabricators and installers.
With so many different types of mass timber business entities offering their services and various capabilities to builders, it’s imperative that we prioritize finding the right fit for our clients’ needs.
Skanska’s expertise uniquely positions us to navigate these complexities.
Builders should support universal adoption of building codes
Today, building codes vary in different areas of the country regarding the acceptability of using uncovered mass timber structures, as well as the allowable heights of these structures.
It’s projected that, over time, most states will adopt building codes that allow for the use of un-clad mass timber for mid-rise building heights.
To increase the allowance of mass timber, those of us in the build community can continue to advocate for the universal adoption of these building codes.
Qualified installers must continue to grow their business
Today, there is an abundance of companies involved across the mass timber supply chain.
However, the representation of general contractors and other specific companies with installation capabilities seems to be lacking across the industry.
That’s why Skanska is proud to self-perform mass timber construction here in the Northwest, to ensure the market understands that mass timber is becoming a core part of our business now and for future projects.
The above are just a few key trends we’re seeing in the industry today.
As the buzz around the many benefits of mass timber grows, there is great opportunity for needle-moving, industry-wide conversation and education.
As the world continues to prioritize sustainable and inventive builds, we look forward to what the future holds for mass timber and how we can help shape it.