Study Aims to Increase Mass Timber in Healthcare


In a new study by the University of Oregon’s Institute for Health in the Built Environment, a team of academics and industry partners are looking at how mass timber could be used in healthcare construction projects.

According to founder and director of IHBE, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, based on previous studies, the material could perform just as well, if not better, than steel, plastic, or vinyl surfaces in disease control.

“In outpatient clinics, or within a whole range of different types of health care facilities ... there is still a bias against wood,” Van Den Wymelenberg said. “There is this perception that it is harder to maintain.”

Mass Timber Study

For more than a decade, Van Den Wymelenberg has been studying microbes in buildings. In January, he submitted his team’s proposal to the U.S. Forest Service regarding the service’s Wood Innovation Grant.

By the time the team’s proposal made its way to Jim Archuleta, Regional Biomass Coordinator for the Forest Service in Portland, the coronavirus pandemic had shaken America, making the team’s hygienic performance of mass timber suddenly a compelling topic.

“This (proposal) really stood out,” Archuleta said. “They’re looking very closely at how we can optimize this to both increase the demand for CLT in health care construction, or just general construction.”

In July, the IHBE was awarded the two-year $250,000 grant to research how wood could be used to overcome market barriers to increase the use of structural mass timber in healthcare environments. According to Capital Press, the healthcare construction market spends $50.3 billion per year.

Mass timber, in this instance, refers to building materials made of laminated and compressed wood, or cross-laminated timber, which is commonly used for beams and panels. According to reports, the production of CLT emits 26% less greenhouse gases than observed in steel production, and 50% less than concrete.

In their research, the team argues that wood products provide several sustainability benefits, including carbon sequestration, clearing forest clutter and lowering wildfire risks, among others.

While the material was under scrutiny for its porousness, research shows that while the material allows viruses and bacteria to enter those pores, they then become trapped and essentially neutralized. Woods are also reported to produce organic compounds known as terpenes, which can contribute to the low survival rate of different pathogens.

To test the theories, the research team has placed samples of mass timber in sterilized boxes where they can control the environment’s ventilation, temperature and humidity. In comparing different types of environments, the team members are able to determine microbial growth and survival rates.

“There are a lot of board-feet that can go into health care facilities, so long as we can show it’s at least equivalent to other materials, if not better, in infection control,” Van Den Wymelenberg said.

Several industry partners have signed on in support of the project, including Providence St. Joseph Health, the eighth-largest health care system in the country with 51 hospitals and 829 clinics across seven western states.

Recent Mass Timber Projects

While mass timber has yet to be widely accepted in the healthcare industries, the material has been utilized in a variety of other commercial projects–so much so, that in August the International Code Council, along with the American Wood Council, released a joint publication: Mass Timber Buildings and the IBC, which aims to provide an overview of requirements for mass timber construction as found in the 2015, 2018 and 2021 International Building Code.

The document highlights changes beginning with the 2015 International Building Code that allow for construction of mass timber buildings with larger heights and areas than was permitted for buildings of wood construction types (Types III, IV and V) prior to the 2015 IBC.

The document also reviews the 2015 IBC recognition of cross-laminated timber, and the reorganization of heavy timber provisions in the 2018 IBC, followed by the changes in the 2021 IBC and International Fire Code for tall mass timber construction.

In regards to mass timber projects, last month construction began in Milwaukee on one of the world’s tallest timber buildings. The 25-story residential building dubbed “Ascent” will stand 284 feet tall and house 259 apartment units, along with retail, parking, a swimming pool and fitness center upon its completion.

Earlier this year, in a six-to-four vote, the Stroud District Council, of England, approved what's being dubbed the world’s first wooden football stadium, which is slated to be built for the Nailsworth, Gloucestershire-based soccer team, the Forest Green Rovers Football Club.

In using sustainably sourced wood, the 5,000-seat stadium will be built using timber materials—including the structure’s cantilevering roof and louvred cladding—and aims to be carbon neutral or even carbon negative.

According to reports, the stadium will be covered by a transparent membrane, intended to minimalize shadows while also allowing grass to grow under the sunlight. Plans for the project also involve the construction of a 1,700-space parking garage and two grass training pitches.

The stadium is slated to be built in Gloucestershire and will be apart of the new Eco Park, a green technology business park planned for junction 13 of the M5 motorway.

In December of last year, the University of Arkansas announced it had opened its Adohi Hall, a new $79.6 million residence hall which expands over four acres and includes three buildings built from cross-laminated timber.

Designed in a collaborative effort between Leers Weinzapfel Associates (Boston), Modus Studio (Fayetteville, Arkansas), Mackey Mitchell Architects (St. Louis) and OLIN (Philadelphia), the Adohi Hall encompasses 202,027 square feet and houses 708 beds.

All throughout the interior, the design team incorporated exposed structural wood columns, ceilings and trusses in order to ensure a sense of warmth and remind students and visitors of the building’s groundbreaking construction.

All timber used in the project was reportedly sourced responsibly, using European spruce, pine and fir for the structural components, while cypress primarily outfitted the interior.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Colleges and Universities; Exotic wood; Good Technical Practice; Hardwood; NA; North America; Recycled building materials; Research; Research and development; Wood; Wood composites

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