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Mass Timber Poised to Dominate the Sustainable Construction Industry

Written by :

Dave Rolin


With a focus on sustainable, cost-effective, and beautiful, Mass Timber is positioned to move from the pilot stage to a high growth stage quickly.

Mass Timber Construction continues to be a growing sustainable construction trend with the potential for exponential growth. This post is a quick introduction to Mass Timber: what it is, why it’s growing in popularity, and what it means for different segments of our industry. Along the way, we’ll point out some of the benefits of Mass Timber that have us so excited and highlight the industry trends that can accelerate Mass Timber adoption.

Mass Timber is another structural material Owners, Designers & Contractors can choose to build with at its most basic level. For example, before Mass Timber, a typical building might have steel columns and beams and floors made of metal decking topped with concrete slabs. Mass Timber can replace those steel columns and beams with engineered wood elements like glue-laminated timber (Gluelams) and replace the decking with cross-laminated timber (CLTs). It can get more complicated than this, but in a nutshell, the key concept is that new engineered wood products are available for use in place of existing products made from other materials, and using these materials can offer several benefits.

Mass Timber Decreases the Carbon Footprint

A clear win for using more wood and less concrete and steel in buildings is that it can drastically lower the carbon footprint and increase sustainability. Cement (a key ingredient in concrete) and steel both require a lot of heat in the manufacturing process, and each has a large carbon footprint. Estimates vary but taken together; these two materials account for about 15% of global CO2 emissions annually. Compare this to wood that prevails on the carbon front in two ways.

  • The energy used to produce Mass Timber is far less than the energy used in steel and cement production.
  • Trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere, sequestering it in the wood.

As trees are harvested for the sustainably-produced wood products used in Mass Timber, new trees are planted. Younger, vigorously growing trees remove more carbon than older mature ones. The net result is, with properly managed forests, this CO2 sequestration can go on indefinitely.

Lighter Wood Reduces Construction Costs

Beyond sustainability, Mass Timber is also having a positive impact on costs and schedules. Wood is a lighter material than steel and concrete. That means potential cost savings from things such as smaller foundations, fewer ground improvements needed with insufficient load-bearing soil, and smaller cranes for erecting the structure. Also, Mass Timber projects can take advantage of the trend towards off-site prefabrication. This results in fewer components that need to be erected on-site, and the components themselves can come with things like MEP penetrations already in place. This results in less work to be performed on-site, which leads to a shorter schedule.

Mass Timber Market Adoption

With so many positives, you might be wondering why Mass Timber hasn’t already taken over the market. The answer is that it takes a great deal of time, money, and experience to build up all the infrastructure needed to adopt new building techniques. There is a need for design teams that can design for Mass Timber, BIM tools that can model Mass Timber, insurance carriers willing to underwrite projects, factories that can produce Mass Timber, etc.

The good news is that this process is well underway. Over the past decade, as more Mass Timber projects have been built, the needed infrastructure has developed and grown. Swinerton, for example, has an entire division focused on Mass Timber. A couple of their notable projects include the

First Tech Federal Credit Union in Oregon, completed in 2018 and consisting of an impressive 156,000 SF. They’re currently working on the Ascent in Milwaukee, an even larger project at 25 stories and 273,000 SF.

Across the industry, we see many of our friends and customers are completing Mass Timber projects, building up their expertise, and are taking on larger and more impressive projects. The building codes are keeping up with this trend, and recent changes enable taller Mass Timber structures.

With Mass Timber projects being sustainable, cost-effective, and beautiful, owners are increasingly picking Mass Timber for their projects. Atlassian and Google are two great owner examples. Both of these owners are in the software industry, and we use their products to help us build Touchplan. Atlassian is building a new

Headquarters in Sydney that will rise to 40 stories, while Google recently announced a new 180,000 SF Mass Timber office building for  Sunnyvale.

It’s rather apparent that Mass Timber is a trend poised to move from the pilot stage to a high growth stage. We’d love to hear about your experience with Mass Timber. Drop us a line, and maybe we’ll even feature one of your projects in a future blog post!