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Bill Aims to Spur Wood Building Boom

Thursday, May 5, 2016

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A new bipartisan bill aims to accelerate research, development and the construction of high-rise wood buildings in the U.S.

The Timber Innovation Act, introduced Monday (May 2), focuses on finding innovative ways to use wood in the construction of buildings above 85 feet in height, according to the bill’s sponsors.

© / RistoO

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators have proposed legislation aimed at accelerating research and development to promote wood construction.

“Wood construction is a winner for our rural economies and for our environment,” co-sponsor Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said in a statement. “Our bill helps drive a new market for forest products—keeping loggers at work in the woods and helping to sustain rural communities. At the same time, using wood for construction reduces carbon pollution and gives private landowners an economic incentive to keep their land forested, instead of parceling it up for development.”

“A new market in wood construction and research will boost job creation […],” co-sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) added in a separate statement.

Time for Timber?

For centuries, wood has been an integral player in construction; however, most wood structures do not exceed three or four stories in height due to concerns regarding wood catching fire more easily and buckling under pressure in natural disasters, according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, with recent advances in product technologies and engineering, the bill’s sponsors believe it is possible to safely incorporate the use of wood in larger construction projects.

Wood construction
© / Frank Leung

The use of wood has been gaining in popularity among residential, commercial and institutional projects around the world.

The act states: “Mass timber buildings, due to thick, solid wood panels of which the buildings are composed, are slow to burn and have inherent fire resistance that, under many configurations, establishes a performance equal to or better than other construction materials, allowing mass timber to be used appropriately for buildings that are significantly taller and larger than traditional wood buildings.”

The T3 office building in Minneapolis is an example of what’s possible, Klobuchar says. Currently under construction, the building is described as the first modern American high-rise to be constructed entirely out of wood. When completed later this year, the structure will soar seven stories.

Wood, a renewable building material with low environmental impact, is also becoming the go-to building material for skyscrapers in Canada, Europe and Australia, according to reports.

Researchers in Cambridge, England, recently presented London’s mayor with conceptual plans for what would be an 80-story, 985-foot tall wooden building.

Incentives, Supporters

If passed, the bill would incentivize investment through the National Forest Products Laboratory as well as American colleges and universities, according to its proponents.

Moreover, the bill would align with ongoing efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further support the use of wood products in tall construction.

In addition to Klobuchar and Stabenow, the bill’s co-sponsors are Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Steve Daines (R-MT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). Supporters of the bill include Weyerhaeuser, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Wood Council and 75 other organizations, including some architecture firms.

Concrete and steel industry groups did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed legislation.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Construction; Good Technical Practice; Government; Laws and litigation; North America; Regulations; Wood; Wood coatings; Wood stains

Comment from Jesse Melton, (5/5/2016, 7:13 AM)

It's far more accurate to say wood is becoming the "go-to building material" for conceptual buildings by starchitects seeking attention for unique proposals. Like concept cars, with more deforestation. Canadian projects might have a decent argument for justifying tall wooden buildings, but Australia doesn't have any trees useful for large construction and appropriate forests in Europe are in Eastern Europe where unstable economies and wobbly political situations make timber harvesting at scale a less than attractive investment opportunity. In the US the interest in timber harvesting for buildings in the north east is the result of declining paper use, not stellar new building ideas and the same market forces pushing out paper are going to shift over to opposition to large wooden buildings as soon as young people who have never seen large scale timber harvesting during their lives witness the effects of endless vistas of tiny pine trees and lots of stumps everywhere. Large timber buildings are an uphill battle for everyone involved and it's going to take a long time to unseat the vested interests that have dominated the timber industry for so long.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/5/2016, 9:39 AM)

It's one way to lock up carbon.

Comment from trevor neale, (5/5/2016, 10:01 AM)

Fire proofing could be a challenge.

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