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According to the Timber Framers Guild, “Timber framing is a distinctive style of building construction in which heavy timbers frame the structure instead of more slender dimensional lumber (for example, 2 x 6-in.). Timber framing was a building practice used throughout the world until roughly 1900 when the demand for cheap, fast housing brought dimensional lumber to the construction forefront. In the 1970s, craftsman revived the timber frame construction tradition in the United States and have ushered the design style into the modern era.” One of the most important parts of a timber frame is its unique joinery. Heavy timber is joined together via mortises and tenons, then secured with wooden pegs.

But this new timber frame construction is different than the construction we saw 100 years ago. According to architect Micahel Green, builders are using mass timber from younger, smaller trees that are engineered together. This material is called cross laminated timber. 

What is Cross Laminated Timber?

Unlike traditional 2×4 lumber, cross-laminated timber consists of layers of wood glued together to form solid, thick panels that can be made in custom dimensions for anything from walls and floors to beams and roofs.

Timber Frame Construction is Cost Efficient

We currently see timber frame construction being erected in countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, with a resurgence in the United States. We are seeing new building plans arise with a timber frame in the plans. New Land Enterprises LLP in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has submitted plans for a seven-story, 42,000-square-foot office building would be the first Milwaukee office building with a frame that uses mass timber. A more cost effective design, a commercial building constructed mainly from laminated timber is lighter, made from renewable materials and provides a lower carbon footprint than a conventional building, which uses steel and concrete. It also creates a more attractive atmosphere, featuring exposed wood interiors and big windows. With rising steel prices, timber frame construction can by-pass that cost. Also, due to the prefabricated nature of the mass timber products, installation is easier, thus decreasing labor costs.

Timber Frame Construction is Energy Efficient

Vancuver- based engineer, Robert Malczyk, asserts that structures built with wood products are incredibly energy efficient, and will put taller wood construction firmly within the mainstream. Many people in North America are realizing this- the combined use of light-wood frame and mass-timber construction can offer economic advantages over traditional steel and concrete. In addition to its cost efficiency, prefabricated mass timber translates into less debris and noise which helps ease the burden on neighbors of the building. Cross laminated lumber doesn’t require any curing time, like concrete does so less machinery is needed on site. “Mass timber design can achieve a 15% reduction in operational costs compared to the baseline, and results in a significant reduction in carbon emissions during operations”, according to a November Seattle mass timber tower case study by design firm DLR Group.

So, let’s make the switch?

Well it’s not that easy. Many cities need to update their building codes to allow for this new type of construction. They are currently working on updating Candian building codes to allow for mass timber construction up to 12 stores. As more and more cities jump on board, we predict an increase in mass timber construction across the country. It’s a shift in how we see the construction industry.

Mass Timber in the Lumber Industry

According to Kevin Mason with ERA Forest Product Research, “Mass timber could account for about 1.5% of North America’s lumber market by next year and could be worth about $2 billion globally by the mid-2020s. The gains could more than offset the declining use of lumber in single-family homes as builders construct more smaller, starter homes.”  As we explore new ways to diversify the lumber and building industry, the only direction is up (figuratively and literally).