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As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Mjösa Tower, the world's tallest wooden building, under construction in Brumunddal, Norway. (Credit: Anti Hamar) Click to Enlarge.

The eight-story Carbon 12 building in Portland, Oregon is the tallest commercial structure in the United States to be built from something called mass timber.

If the many fervent boosters of this new construction material are right, however, it is only one of the first mass timber buildings among many, the beginning of a construction revolution.  “The design community in Portland is enthralled with the material,” said Emily Dawson, an architect at Kaiser + Path, the locally-based firm that designed Carbon 12.

The move to mass timber is even farther along in Europe.  That’s because mass timber – large structural panels, posts, and beams glued under pressure or nailed together in layers, with the wood’s grain stacked perpendicular for extra strength – is not only prized as an innovative building material, superior to concrete and steel in many ways, it is also hoped it will come into its own as a significant part of a climate change solution.

Among architects, manufacturers, and environmentalists, many want nothing less than to turn the coming decades of global commercial construction from a giant source of carbon emissions into a giant carbon sink by replacing concrete and steel construction with mass timber.  That, they say, would avoid the CO2 generated in the production of those building materials and sequester massive amounts of carbon by tying up the wood in buildings for decades or even longer, perhaps in perpetuity.

“Because its components are fabricated off-site to [precise specifications], it goes together really fast on site,” said Dawson.  “So you can cut months off the construction time. It’s more predictable than concrete.  You can work through cold weather and don’t have to worry about the temperature tolerances of concrete.  It’s also a lot quieter than other kinds of construction, so you can be a good neighbor.”  It’s stronger than steel, lighter, and, surprisingly, may be as fireproof.

Read more at As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?