Mass Timber in 2021

Mass Timber in 2021: A Year in Review

So what happened in 2021 in the world of mass timber? Here are my top takeaways from a very full year of mass timber design and construction in the US.

Resources discussed in this video:

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Video Transcript:

One of the latest trends in the use of construction materials is the rebirth of an old construction material: mass timber. Consisting of large sections of wood formed by laminating smaller wood components together, it is touted by proponents as being more environmentally friendly than traditional construction materials. Mass timber’s safety performance and fire resistance have resulted in the ability for architects and engineers to design timber projects much taller and larger than ever before.

A series of events over the past decade, culminating in 2021, have many people wondering: Is mass timber the building material of the future? 

Well hey folks, Ricky McLean with Woodworks here, back for another Timber Talk Tuesday. But today’s Timber Talk Tuesday is no ordinary edition. Today, we’re looking back at the year that was 2021 through the lens of mass timber. This is by no means meant to be a prediction or prognostication as to what’s to come in mass timber, nor is it meant to leave out certain things that I may not have thought of in this year in review.

I think it goes without saying that a lot of the growth that mass timber has been experiencing has been due to code advancements that we’ve seen relative to where, when, and how large of a building can you use mass timber in. Of course, last year we saw the release of the 2021 International Building Code and the introduction of three new construction types, allowing much larger and specifically much taller mass timber projects than previously ever prescriptively allowed.

So what we’ve seen throughout 2021 is adoption of that 2021 IBC, or at least adoption of the tall mass timber provisions within that document, across a number of jurisdictions here in the U.S. As of the time of this recording, there are currently at least eight jurisdictions that have tall mass timber code language adopted, and within a few weeks from now, several others have said that they will also be adopting that tall mass timber code language. So by the start of 2022, we expect there to be at least a dozen jurisdictions in the U.S. who have this tall mass timber code option.

Not only that, but the advancements on those initial tall mass timber code allowances have continued to grow throughout 2021. We’ve started the process now of updates to the 2024 International Building Code, and one of the most notable updates is, at least the preliminary results are available, that indicate for Type 4B construction, which allows you to go up to 12 stories for mass timber, the allowances for the amount of mass timber ceilings that can be exposed will be greatly expanded.

Another exciting code advancement in 2021 was the New York City Building Code, where they’re updating that document to now, for the first time, prescriptively recognize cross-laminated timber as an allowable building material. Now, this is not going to allow you to go up to tall mass timber projects like we just talked about in the IBC, but this is a huge step forward in recognizing the safety and performance of cross-laminated timber.

And lastly, on the topics of codes and related standards, there have been several good advancements throughout 2021. First of all, at the beginning of the year, the release of the 2021 Special Design Provisions for Wind and Seismic, a document published by the American Wood Council where, for the first time, prescriptive code guidance on the design of CLT shear walls and CLT diaphragms was introduced. Additionally, we are now expecting that the next version of ASCE 7, ASCE 7-22, will also include two prescriptive options for the use of CLT shear walls.

Alright, so now moving over to the project side, the construction side of mass timber. One interesting thing that Woodworks does is track all of the mass timber projects that we’re aware of and assisting on, either those in design or those that are under construction and completed. Going back to the end of 2020, that number of projects was 1,060. Fast forwarding just nine months through the third quarter of 2021, that total number of projects had already grown by almost 200. Of course, by the end of the year, we expect that to continue to grow even further.

A couple of interesting notes about those projects that we’re seeing grow and take place here in the U.S. Number one, I would say, is tall mass timber construction. I mentioned the codes that are changing; the projects are following along. We’ve seen now six mass timber projects that are what we would consider tall, usually in excess of six stories, and those six projects are now complete or under construction. Several of those did start construction in 2021. Those six projects are Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon; Ascent in Milwaukee; Intro in Cleveland; Adm Street in Washington, D.C.; The Apex Plaza in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the 11 East Lennox project in Boston. All projects that are either complete or under construction.

Another interesting trend with projects that we’ve seen is more and more use of mass timber in multi-family occupancies. I think some of that is tied to more projects going taller. Of the tall projects that we’re assisting on, nearly 70 percent of them are a multi-family occupancy or at least multi-family mixed use. But even having said that, we are seeing a trend of more mass timber in multi-family in general, even in projects in the three to five-story, what we would typically consider mid-rise range.

Now, in order to see the number of projects grow throughout the U.S. and see successful implementation of mass timber in construction projects, of course, the design knowledge, the design expertise needs to be there. Of course, that’s why Woodworks is here to help educate you, educate the design community. And throughout 2021, we’ve released a number of new, really exciting publications, design guides, and documents related to the use of mass timber.

So a couple I thought I would point out, I’ll pull them up over here. You can kind of see the first one, the biggest one, is the Mass Timber Design Manual, where this contains a number of technical resources that we’ve published and put together. We published this particular document with our partner organization, Think Wood. Some other notable documents that we released in 2021: this one here, the U.S. Mass Timber Floor Vibration Design Guide, the U.S. Mass Timber Connections Index, a resource that you see here about insurance and helping insurers understand mass timber construction. And then, right towards the end of the year, this document that you see here we released is the Mass Timber Construction Manual, intended for both pre-construction managers with mass timber, as well as those on the site logistically working with and installing mass timber components.

And one of the last things that I wanted to mention is some exciting growth programs or accelerator programs that we’ve seen develop in 2021. A couple that come to mind first in the City of Boston, the Mass Timber Accelerator Program is a project that’s being facilitated by BPDA, the Boston Planning and Development Agency, with funds from the Softwood Lumber Board, USDA Forest Service, and ClimateWorks Foundation. And this program is awarding funds for up to 10 projects within the City of Boston, again to incentivize the use of mass timber. The city sees this as one of several viable means to help reduce the embodied carbon of future construction in the city.

And then, for more of a national perspective, the Softwood Lumber Board and USDA Forest Service announced in 2021 the launch of the Mass Timber Competition with the tagline of “Building to Net Zero Carbon.” And this one nationally is going to be supporting projects that are looking to use mass timber. So providing funds to help evaluate the use of mass timber, to bring on experienced folks who are looking to do mass timber projects. So I’m excited to see what this competition results in in 2022.

Well, that’s it for my 2021 mass timber year in review video. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of mass timber growth and exciting happenings. I can’t wait for next year to see what happens, see how we can all support you as you work on your projects. Again, reach out to us here at Woodworks for any questions that you have. I’m looking forward to next year, I’m looking forward to seeing mass timber grow and being a part of this industry. I hope you are too. Until next time, we’ll see you later.

For More information please visit:

How to Start a Mass Timber Building Design

External Youtube post: Is mass timber the building material of the future?