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Why should we wait? Help us take wood construction higher.

Are you ready for bigger wood buildings? Tell us—we want to make it happen.

At this year’s Builder & Renovator Forum, David Moses spoke about the quest to build bigger, better wood structures.

There is great potential for construction in wood, and the material has been used, both present and past, to build fantastic structures such as public art, stadiums, trestle bridges, and more. Today, wood makes up approximately 90% of the residential construction market, with 70,000 new homes per year in Ontario, yet we have reduced ourselves to building large tracts of small, individual houses and town homes.

While residential construction was once the province of craftsmanship, the arrival of sawmills, nails, and standard framing practices turned it into a manufacturing  process in the wake of the Second Industrial Revolution. Homes in Ontario are built to satisfy minimum prescriptive requirements in the building code, prioritizing initial costs above innovation, quality, and long-term considerations.

What can we do differently, and what is holding us back? For some time, limitations in the code have forbidden the construction of wood buildings beyond 4 storeys. A 2009 code change in British Columbia has increased the limit to 6 storeys, and Ontario is investigating the possibility of a similar change. This could be the next step in wood construction innovation.

Designing wood buildings of this size requires new thinking, and smart decisions about materials and engineering design. Pre-fabrication with conventional framing is a great choice for quick, high quality construction, in lieu of laborious (yet common) building processes in which everything is accomplished on site. As U.S. homebuilder Tedd Benson has written: “building homes on site makes as much sense as building a car in your driveway.”

New materials have also opened up opportunities for building larger, better-quality structures with less time and effort. Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), which consists of layered panels of 2x timbers, is an excellent choice for pre-fabrication and quick assembly, and it is well poised to actualize the potential unlocked by increasing flexibility in our building codes.

Prototypes of wood construction in Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia have already reached as high as 7 – 10 storeys. Today, leading architects are investigating the possibilities of building wood structures anywhere between 17 and 30 storeys. Why should we wait?