10 keys for mass timber project success

Mass timber construction has been around for decades in Europe, particularly in commercial and multistorey residential projects. Recently, we’re seeing market adoption in North America with more and more projects adopting mass timber construction. There are many benefits to using mass timber, including its high fire rating, strength, adaptability, and sustainability. It is particularly beneficial in earthquake zones.

Companies in the USA are now adapting its use for single-family construction, and I believe we will see gains here as manufacturing facilities become more flexible in their production setups.

Personally, I feel mass timber construction is something the rest of the world needs to learn and adopt. The benefits outweigh almost every other residential building system in use today. However, the design phase will take longer, but the build itself will be quicker than conventional builds. There will be less disruption and fewer resources required on-site due to its off-site manufacturing phase. Please be aware that mass timber construction requires a change of mindset, a change to convention, and companies that invest in upskilling will benefit greatly by producing more sustainable, more robust, and better buildings. I will be using mass timber construction for my next family home.

Ricky discusses his 10 keys to mass timber project success below.

10 KEYS to Mass Timber Project Success

While there is no single answer as to what makes a mass timber project successful vs. not moving forward with it, there are some common themes that are evident in many mass timber projects which do realize completion. In this video, I break down a list of 10 items that can help lead a mass timber project to success. It really does take a collaborative approach for the entire design, construction and fabrication team, and these core principles can help with that interactive methodology.

Video Transcript:

It’s the Mass Timber Messenger. What do you want? I’m here with the next Mass Timber Two Minute Tuesday video. What’s today’s topic? Ten Keys to Mass Timber Project Success. Oh, that might be a good one. Let’s check it out. 

Well, hey folks, welcome back to another Two Minute Tuesday. I’m Ricky McLean, and in this video, I’m going to share with you my 10 keys to mass timber project success. Now, these aren’t going to be super technical, super in-depth. They’re going to be fairly high level, but I do think that they can drive a lot of success to your mass timber projects if you can start implementing them to some extent. Alright, let’s jump right into it.

My first item on the list is to know your why. Now, I’ve done a video about this previously. You can check it up in the upper right-hand corner here. But essentially, what I’m talking about here is knowing from the start of your project why are you pursuing mass timber for your project? What are the objectives, the benefits, the goals of using mass timber on your project? Because these can vary widely. Maybe it’s driven by sustainability, maybe it’s driven by the need to have a lighter weight structure. Whatever your why is for your mass timber project, identify that early on so that you can keep coming back to that throughout the design process and make sure that the design is following the goals.

Alright, number two is to design your project as mass timber from the start. Now, too often, we’ve seen projects that have started down the road of design with a structural framework being steel or concrete or something other than mass timber construction, and then at some point during design, they want to flip that to a mass timber structure. Now, is it possible to do that? Yes, absolutely. But it’s probably not going to be the most efficient. If you can understand from the beginning that your project is going to be mass timber, design it as if it were a mass timber building from the start. And this is everything from what is the grid, what is the construction type, what do the connections look like, how do the other services integrate with this timber structure?

Number three is to understand the supply chain. Now, the unique part of mass timber construction is that these elements are not commodity products. You know, if I think of something like structural steel framing where I know I can specify a W14x26 steel beam and it’s going to have the same structural properties regardless of which manufacturer or supplier I get that from. On the other hand, if I think of something like say a five-ply CLT floor panel, the structural properties and even the species of wood used in that five-ply panel are going to vary from one manufacturer to the next. And I think that’s really a good thing because it allows you as the designer to have flexibility in the aesthetics, in the structural span capabilities, which really ties in well to number four on the list, which is to leverage manufacturer capabilities.

Once you start to understand the supply chain, know those players, understand what products they can supply, what species of wood they’re using, what structural properties they have, really use that to your advantage as the designer and design your mass timber structure in the most efficient manner that meets their capabilities. Things like, you know, how wide are their panels, how long are their panels. Design your structural grid in a way that maximizes that panel size that they can produce because, of course, that’s going to be the most efficient. Same thing goes for what thickness of panels they have or what size of beams and columns are most in stock or standard fabrication for them. Ultimately, all of those things are going to draw down the costs, make the cost and the building design most efficient, and ultimately, that’s going to lead to more mass timber project success.

Number five is to optimize the grid. So, specifically talking here about the column spacings, panel spans, those types of things. Now, some of this does tie back to what we mentioned earlier as far as leveraging manufacturer capabilities, but to me, it also goes beyond that. I’m thinking specifically, understand what is the most efficient construction type for your project because construction type is going to drive you to a specific fire resistance rating. If you know what that fire resistance rating is, that’s going to have an influence on what is the most efficient panel thickness. For example, once you know that most efficient panel thickness for a given fire rating, then you can start to figure out what is the most efficient span for that panel thickness. Of course, you can work with different grids to achieve the same panel span, but it is important to understand how all of these things impact each other, and really optimizing the grid is a great way to do that.

Number six is taking full advantage of mass timber’s prefabrication capabilities. You want to really maximize the amount of holes, openings, connections, notches, etc., that we’re doing to each individual mass timber element in the manufacturing facility so that when these elements get to the site, we’re really just connecting together a kit of parts. And in order to do that, there is more thought, more design that needs to be done up front so that that information is relayed amongst the design team, presented to the contractor, presented to ultimately the manufacturer so that they can work that into their model, which is being used to fabricate these timber elements. But doing that on the front end of things really eliminates, at least minimizes, the amount of rework.

Number seven is to expose the timber to the maximum extent possible. Now, this probably sounds obvious. If you’re doing a mass timber building, you’re probably wanting to expose as much of that mass timber as possible. But make sure you’re thinking ahead of time what things might need to cover up this timber, what other elements might need to be installed, and make sure you’re thinking about those things. Such as, do you have a heavy concentration of mechanical services that you maybe haven’t thought about ahead of time? Instead of having to cover those up, is there a way to integrate them into the mass timber structure such that it’s elegant, but you can still leave the mass timber exposed? Also, I’m thinking about through penetrations, fire stop details, a lot of those things that sometimes get missed in the design process and then during construction, it becomes a bit of an unnecessary or not best aesthetically looking detail that is applied to those systems and services and penetrations. So, make sure you’re thinking about all of these things ahead of time.

Number eight on the list is to discuss the project early on with the authority having jurisdiction. Now, maybe you’re working in a city that has done a number of mass timber projects, and the building officials and plan reviewers and site inspectors there are very familiar with mass timber construction. But if that’s not the case or even if it is the case, I would still recommend talking to the building officials, the authority having jurisdiction early on. Let them know what your plans are for your mass timber project, whether you’re completely prescriptively following the building code or you’re going to apply for some variants. Regardless, I think it’s still a good idea to express to them early on, “This is our plan,” and have some open lines of communication with them throughout the design process, understand their concerns or questions, and be able to provide information to them that can satisfy their concerns or questions. Make sure that they’re up to speed and really make it feel like they’re part of the design team so that when they get a final set of drawings to approve, this isn’t the first time that they’ve seen it and they’re getting something that’s unexpected to them.

Number nine is to work with experienced people. Now, this could be working with experienced suppliers, with structural engineers, architects, mechanical engineers, contractors, installers, and all of the above, really. And I think it’s important to at least have one player on the team that does have some mass timber experience and really use that to your advantage to make sure that all of the aspects that, if you’re new to mass timber construction, you may not be thinking of. It’s kind of one of those situations you don’t know what you don’t know. So depend on those that are experienced, depend on the organizations out there that can provide assistance to you, and really use that to the advantage of the overall project.

And the last item on my list is to use mass timber construction to create your own market distinction. Market distinction for you, for your firm, for a certain area of the country. Really leverage the fact that mass timber construction is still relatively new, it’s rapidly growing, but it’s still relatively new, and set yourself, set your firm apart as mass timber experts. And really leverage what you’ve done on your mass timber projects to get the next projects. I think that much can be found in storytelling, in helping people understand what experiences did you learn with mass timber in the past, what were some things that went wrong, what were some things that went well, but really how all of those things tie into your current mass timber success and how that can leverage your capabilities as an experienced firm to attract the next mass timber project to come to you. And really, again, leverage that, use that to create your market distinction.

If you enjoy watching these videos, make sure to subscribe on YouTube so you don’t miss any future videos coming out. I thank you so much for watching today’s video, and as always, we’ll talk to you all next week.

For More information please visit: https://www.woodworks.org

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