Cross-laminated timber could transform communities, timber industry

by Ashley Bach

Excitement, nervousness, anticipation. If you’re in the wood products industry, thinking about the prospects for cross-laminated timber (CLT) is like attending the first day of school or a new job. The momentum just keeps on growing every month. Newsweek Magazine recently took an in-depth look at not just one but three CLT projects built or planned in Portland. A bill was introduced in the Washington Legislature this session to allow tax exemptions for CLT buildings, and a blogger recently called for the city of Seattle to provide incentives to developers who use CLT in their projects. 

“A CLT bonus would not only promote a potentially carbon-positive building technique, but also help serve the challenging mid-rise range of heights between six and twelve stories — beyond the range where light timber construction can be used,” Doug Trumm wrote in The Urbanist. “Moreover, it would allow speedier construction schedules increasing turn around and getting more units on the market. That’s a big deal in Seattle where construction crews, City staff, and utilities staff are working at breakneck speed to keep pace with the building boom.”

Some experts say changing state codes to allow for more CLT in tall buildings could be a few years away, but the point is clear: more and more people are getting on board for CLT. Its lower cost, faster construction schedule and environmental benefits are undeniable.

Vancouver, B.C., architect Michael Green, an international expert on CLT’s use in tall buildings, spoke this week at a logging conference in Eugene, Ore. He received a standing ovation.

Oregon could become a showcase for the possibilities of cross-laminated timber, which is made by gluing hundreds of pieces of wood together, Green said. The big blocks of wood replace steel and concrete in construction.

“Eventually I see a world built with these beautiful buildings,” he said.

…Increased demand for cross-laminated timber could spur growth in the timber industry, said Eric Gehrke, a senior manager with Weyerhauser Co. in Coos Bay. “If it plays out, it is going to present a lot of opportunity,” he said.

Green’s talk brought loud applause and caused some people in the crowd of more than 300 to stand up when he was done.

Going forward, the sky may be the limit for CLT.

Jennifer Cover, executive director of WoodWorks, an educational arm of the Wood Products Council that provides free education to architects and engineers on designing and building nonresidential buildings with wood materials, said in the last three years her organization has seen interest and requests for assistance skyrocket.

Currently, the group is providing technical assistance to 22 U.S.-based projects that are slated to build past seven stories with wood.

“The momentum is there for sure,” she said. “Engineers are going to decide where the sweet spot is, where it makes the most sense. Seven, eight stories up to 13 to 14 seems to be very doable with wood as the primary material.”