Increasingly, designers, builders, and building owners are turning to one of our oldest building materials: wood. Valued for its versatility, low carbon footprint, and aesthetic qualities, not to mention its cost performance, wood has long been a preferred choice for constructing durable structures that are resilient in the face of hazardous conditions. However, in modern times, structural wood has been largely confined to residential and low-rise commercial construction, despite its proven structural performance and ability to endure seismic and wind events. Recent innovations and subsequent code changes are expanding the use of structural wood beyond these established sectors.

Using wood in nonresidential buildings is not a completely new idea, but rather a revival. Innovative new construction techniques are expanding the use of lumber; these techniques utilize engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), dowel-laminated timber (DLT), and structural glued-laminated timber (glulam). These “mass timber” products have great structural capability and inherent fire resistance, and interest in mid- and even high-rise wood buildings that incorporate these technologies is growing rapidly in Canada and the United States. Testing and validation of these products, in addition to many new examples coming online, is driving increasing confidence from both the public and local code authorities. Recent code changes reflect the growing body of research that validates these systems for structural performance and for contribution to life safety during extreme events, such as fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss provisions in the International Building Code (IBC) intended to ensure that wood buildings provide an acceptable level of safety.
  2. Evaluate techniques that make it safe for designers to increase heights and areas of building projects beyond IBC base limits.
  3. Identify the advantages of wood-frame and mass timber structures during hazardous events.
  4. Explain how advances in wood products and building systems are influencing the evolution of building codes.
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