Can Timber Make a Comeback?

Wood might just turn out to be the building material of choice in the future. And that has us pondering “what if.” Of course, timber has been around for a long time. But with recent advancements in materials, it now has potential for a comeback!

Wood’s sustainability, quality, and speed of construction have always made it an ideal building material. But concerns about safety, in particular with regard to fire, have moved construction away from wood and toward concrete, steel and glass.

Why a Resurgence of Wood?

Steel and concrete have shaped skylines across the globe for over a century. And until now, there hasn’t been any reason to change their role in construction. But as the concern for the environment continues to grow, new materials are being considered – and sustainably sourced wood is at the forefront.

Wood has always had several advantages. Timber makes the building process extremely accurate, about 50% faster, and allows for some of the most beautiful architecture imaginable. And recent innovations in engineered timber mean wooden skyscrapers may soon be a very real possibility!

New Technology is Breathing New Life into Wood Structures

The product making this new breed of timber structures possible is called Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). CLT is produced by layering up to seven timber sections of wood at right angles, then gluing them together. It can be prefabricated in a factory to any shape or dimension and is much lighter than its steel and concrete counterparts – and incredibly strong.

CLT can also be treated to be fire resistant and will maintain its strength even when exposed to extreme heat. As with all innovations, early adoption comes at a cost.

Innovation Comes at a Cost

For many projects, CLT is simply cost prohibitive right now—the expense doesn’t outweigh the benefit of using timber. Additionally, for many areas of construction, wood is currently forbidden by state and local building codes. It takes time for building codes to catch up to new, innovative materials.

In spite of some of the early drawbacks, there are several new buildings that demonstrate the material’s potential including a Chicago pavilion.

What About Safety?

Timber has already been used in the past. In fact, it used to be the dominant building material in America. But that all changed in the late 19th century when a series of devastating city fires tore through some major American cities.

It’s no wonder why one the biggest fears people have with wooden skyscrapers is fire safety.

Because of this fear, many countries impose a limit on the height of timber buildings. But the good news is that these fears may no longer be relevant! It has been estimated that when realized in accordance with regulations, a building made out of CLT will be just as fire safe as a similar building made of concrete!

Moving Forward

The biggest challenge we must overcome in order to step into the timber age isn’t the limits of the material or safety concerns. It’s the lack of experience within the construction industry. Most designers and builders simply aren’t being taught how to use wood as a structural component. But as these new high-tech wooden materials continue to develop and people continue to become more educated, this could very well be the beginning of the timber age.