Timber around the world
Growing the use of mass timber in Canada
It’s not just the UK that stands to benefit from the wider adoption of structural timber building solutions. In fact, there are a number of countries which could also use the material to meet crucial development targets and reduce levels of carbon consumption.
That’s why we recently launched our ‘Timber Around The World’ series of blogs. This month, we talk to Tim Buhler, Technical Manager at Wood WORKS!, a market development initiative in Canada.
Hi Tim – can you explain what Wood WORKS! is?
It’s been launched by the Canadian Wood Council Programme and the organisation’s main aim is to help to grow the use of wood products in construction. In that sense, it’s really similar to the ‘Time for Timber’ campaign in the UK. We act as the Canadian voice for the wood products industry and help to educate design professionals on where and when to use the material.
In practice, we act in the same way as a standard national federation and incorporate all aspects of timber products; from structural two by fours, all the way up to mass timber CLT manufacturing. We want to make sure that developers feel confident in specifying wood products and to ensure they have the right support. With our assistance, we’re confident that we can help to grow the market across the country.
Personally, I work on the market development side of operations. So, my main goal is to get the word out about the benefits of wood products. There’s another team at the Canadian Wood Council that focuses on engineering and building codes, as well as making regulations more accepting towards the use of wood products. Collectively, we work together to make sure we’re reaching all relevant parties.
What’s the biggest obstacle to using timber in Canada?
As a nation, we don’t tend to build homes from materials like concrete, or brick. Therefore, we’re in a rather unique situation where the vast majority of residential construction (up-to three storeys) is already built from timber. However – it’s very rare for buildings larger than that to be constructed from timber. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one is a lack of education about the material’s suitability to this form of construction.
Over the years, we’ve worked hard to tackle this education issue, but there’s still more to be done. Currently, the number of courses in colleges and universities that relate to steel and concrete construction vastly outnumber those relating to timber. With that said, there is nothing specific in our building codes to prevent more timber construction. As a result, the task is about changing mindsets.
Can environmental goals help to encourage that change?
Absolutely. Like so many other countries, Canada faces a challenge of dealing with growing population levels, whilst also trying to limit carbon consumption. We believe wood can have a major impact in this area. As a nation, we’re still going to need to build more homes, but sustainably. Thanks to wood construction, you have that option and can effectively tackle both goals.
We’re already seeing the appetite growing across parts of the country. For example, the market in British Columbia is already really strong. At the same time, there’s new timber developments popping up in throughout Canada, which are gaining positive attention.
How can the Canadian Government help in this effort?
The government is already assisting in these efforts. Federal and provincial governments are major supporters of our programs. In addition to the local benefits, as a major exporter of wood products, Canada’s economy stands to massively benefit from the wider adoption of materials like structural timber. That’s another big reason to support the industry. So, even if you’re a politician who doesn’t put too much emphasis on improving environmental performance there’s still a strong economic argument to back developing the sector.
Is the insurance sector an issue that you need to overcome?
Yes, it’s certainly a roadblock. The good news is that as more large timber buildings are built there’s more historical data for insurers to compare when putting together their rates. The bad news is that we’re still working through that process and there remains obstacles we’re yet to overcome.
Ultimately, if people are financially disincentivized to use timber then that will have an impact. With the high insurance rates on certain forms of building types that’s sadly what’s happening now. Even builders who are very committed to the material aren’t going to use it over making a profit. Our job is to level that playing field.
What does success look like in the next ten years?
We’re working towards a number of aims. From the insurance side, we want to help develop a better understanding of timber as a material and to assuage some of the unfounded concerns about its performance. We’re hoping to see projects receive more favourable building classifications. For example, it would be a huge step forward to see some mass timber buildings recognised for their increased fire resistance and moved out of the insurance category they currently share with light wood frame buildings.
We’re also looking for more communication with the industry. Our model has been successful in the past, so now it’s about rolling that out and reaching more architects and engineers. Likewise, we want to ensure we’re speaking with developers and owners about the material’s benefits. By working on a building-by-building basis, we hope to be able to inspire more wide scale adoption.
Whilst ambitious, we think these goals are realistic, especially in light of the need for the building sector to adopt more sustainable practices into its operations. In the next few months, we’re going to see 12-storey mass timber structures receive the green light in our National Building Code, which is really positive.
Finally, I’d love to see more global collaboration from like-minded organisations representing the timber and wood construction industry. We’ve had preliminary meetings with similar bodies in Austria, Australia and China, as well as the work we’re already doing with the Structural Timber Association. There’s so much potential for us to come together and amplify our voice on a global level.
To find out more about the work that Tim does as part of Wood WORKS! and the Canadian Wood Council, please visit: www.wood-works.ca