March 14, 2019 by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
OKANAGAN FALLS, B.C.—The height limit for wood buildings in British Columbia is rising to 12 from six storeys in a move that Premier John Horgan expects to spur development using timber and give the province a headstart on other parts of the country.
B.C. is changing its building code to allow the construction of taller wood buildings as a safe, economic and environmental alternative to concrete apartments and office buildings, Horgan said Wednesday.
B.C.’s building code changes come one year ahead of expected changes in the national building code, which are also expected to increase height limits for wood buildings to 12 storeys, Horgan said.
“We’re not waiting for the rest of the country to get here,” said Horgan. “We already know that the product we’re building, that we’re creating here, is fire resistant. We know that we can build faster and we know it’s better for the environment.”
He said he expects local governments and First Nations to approve more wood buildings for family apartments, student residences and business locations.
Horgan made the announcement at Structurlam, a timber production company in Okanagan Falls near Penticton that has been a North American leader in wood products used in buildings.
“We need to get more value out of every log,” he said. “It’s cost effective. It’s environmentally sensitive and it’s putting British Columbians to work with a B.C. product.”
A mass timber building is one where the primary load-bearing structure is made of either solid or engineered wood. Encapsulated mass timber is where the timber components are surrounded by fire-resistant materials like drywall.
Hardy Wentzel, chief executive officer of Structurlam, said the height change allows the company to continue being an innovator on mass timber products and building designs.
He said the company uses B.C. wood, including spruce, pine and fir.
Canada is a leader in wood technology, using different forms of timber and lumber to create products that can be formed into pre-fabricated wood used as beams, columns, walls, arches, floors and roofs, says the Canadian Wood Council.
Wentzel said mass timber buildings are safe and faster to build, but the long-standing tradition of concrete buildings holds strong.
“The builders may be set in their ways, but when they actually do the economics of building 12-storey wood buildings versus a 12-storey concrete building, and they do a full cradle to grave analysis, they’re going to find this is the better way to build,” he said.
In response to the provincial code changes, the Cement Association of Canada said in a release it was surprised the province would “bypass” the ongoing national code review process, and called on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to “put a pause” on the regulations.
“Allowing municipalities to approve 12 storey encapsulated mass timber construction in the absence of approved seismic specifications for this form of construction is premature,” Michael McSweeney, CAC president and CEO, stated.
“In the majority of towns where we see lumber mills, we also see sand pits, quarries and ready mixed concrete plants, so the government’s action is simply ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, shifting jobs, rather than creating new ones. Governments should not be in the business of picking ‘winners or losers’ over competing building materials.”
McSweeney added that the Brock Commons building at the University of British Columbia, an emblem of the province’s mass timber building efforts, is made with “a significant amount of reinforced concrete.”
“Without concrete, the building would not be able to support itself,” he said.
Eric Andreasen, vice-president of sales and marketing at Vancouver building company Adera, welcomed the change, which he said will likely convince more developers to consider wood buildings.
“I do believe a lot of people are going to start having an awareness and that’s going to lead to more tall wood construction,” he said. “It’s got some natural characteristics and it just looks better.”
A Housing Ministry news release says mass timber buildings meet or exceed performance standards for safety, structural resilience and fire protection. It says the 17-storey Brock Commons student residence at the University of British Columbia was the world’s tallest mass-timber building when it opened in 2017.
With files from On-Site Staff