Better buildings
September 13, 2022

Getting technical and going taller with timber

Designers and developers can take low-carbon timber buildings to new heights with this updated essential resource for tall wood construction

Residential, commercial and industrial buildings account for 17 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and buildings generate nearly 40 per cent of annual global CO2 emissions. As a result, there is a growing interest in taller wood construction as a low-carbon building alternative and a growing need to advance technical know-how that can take timber buildings to new heights.  

Exterior overcast daytime view of Brock Commons Tallwood House under construction with crane lifting prefabricated exterior wall panel with wood-fibre-and-resin cladding into place

Brock Commons Tallwood House  | At the time of its construction, the 18-storey student housing facility was the tallest hybrid mass timber building in the world. The structure was built to meet enhanced fire and seismic safety regulations. | Photo credit: Brudder Productions

That’s the thinking behind FPInnovations’ 2022 edition of its Technical guide for the design and construction of tall wood buildings in Canada. The multi-disciplinary guide, written and peer-reviewed by over 60 experts, also demonstrates the important contribution of wood structures and sustainable forestry to the long-term storage of carbon and reducing embodied carbon of buildings.

The updated guide takes into account substantial regulatory changes that were made in the 2020 edition of the National Building Code of Canada such as the addition of encapsulated mass timber construction of up to 12 storeys; the approved use of 12-storey mass timber gravity systems; and alternative solutions to construct wood buildings taller than 12 storeys. It also complies with the 2019 edition of the CSA standard 086 and the 2020 Canadian Wood Council design manual 


Who's the guide for?

The nearly 700-page technical guide, updated from its 2014 edition, is a must-have handbook for architects, engineers, code consultants, developers, building owners and municipalities—and anyone interested in knowing more about the technical aspects of tall timber construction.

For architects, engineers and other building professionals looking for helpful technical details, the guide delves into everything from building code compliance and tall wood building systems, to more detailed best practices related to gravity loads, seismic design, vibration and acoustics.

Along with the technical details, developers, municipalities and owners will benefit from a full examination of the cost and value of tall wood construction, including what pricing to expect when selecting particular building systems.

Anyone interested in sustainability will benefit from a comprehensive look at carbon dynamics in forests and environmental considerations, along with tools that can quantify the benefits of using wood.

The guide concludes with best practices for ongoing monitoring and maintenance of tall wood structures—and how wood salvage, reuse and design for disassembly supports a more sustainable, circular economy. 

Renderings of Brock Commons Tall Wood House | Photo credit: Brudder Productions 

Brock Commons Rendering

What’s covered in the guide?

From concept and design to maintenance and end of life, the technical guide leaves nothing out when it comes to tall wood construction. While useful as a whole, each chapter can stand alone as a specialized resource on specific topics such as fire safety and protection or monitoring and maintenance.   

Topics covered in the guide: 

  • Overview of tall wood construction and benefits
  • Building as a system (hybrid and mass timber)
  • Cost and value
  • Sustainability
  • Structural and serviceability
  • Fire safety and protection
  • Building enclosure design
  • Project execution
  • Monitoring and maintenance
  • Innovation and technology— building information modelling (BIM) + prefabrication

Technical Guide for Blog 1

What you'll learn

  • Approaches to maximizing the benefits of prefabrication and BIM.
  • Methods for addressing limitations controlled by fire requirements (through an alternative solution). 
  • Seismic requirements (using a hybrid solution/acceptable solution in steel or concrete). 
  • Best practices for mass timber construction to meet higher performance requirements of the Energy Step Code. 
  • Environmental and health considerations of using wood in buildings. 

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is an engineered wood panel made by layering dimension lumber at 90-degree angles onto one another. Each layer is glued together to form structural panels with high dimensional stability. | Photo credit: Swanky Photography 

Interior daytime view of worker using bridge crane during CLT panel (cross laminated timber) fabrication process

B.C.’s global leadership in tall wood construction

B.C. has been at the forefront of advancing tall wood construction. In 2019 the province adopted code change provisions for 12-storey mass timber construction for interested communities—the first province in Canada to do so.  

In addition to taller wood buildings currently operational in B.C., over 20 municipalities have signalled their interest in being early adopters of innovative mass timber midrise residential and commercial buildings, paving the way for going taller across the province.

These communities became early adopters because they had strong support from their city council, planning, building and fire departments, Level 3-certified building officials, and land-use bylaws for timber buildings higher than six storeys. As early adopters of tall wood construction, these B.C. communities are spurring economic growth, creating jobs and supporting eco-friendly low carbon construction across the province. 

Wood Innovation and Design Centre | At 29.5 metres high, with eight levels in total (six storeys with an added mezzanine, plus a penthouse), this tall wood project is a showcase for local wood technology and design, and includes four different types of mass timber products, an all-wood stairwell and an elevator shaft. | Photo credit: Ema Peter 

Exterior view of completed Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) which features mass timber construction, prefabrication, hybrid wood, and tall wood design

Innovative B.C. building projects highlighted in the guide

B.C.’s longstanding, rich history of building taller with wood is demonstrated by century-old heavy timber buildings, such as the Leckie Building, that still stand and are widely used to this day—a testament to the resilience of timber.  

Today, more and more mass timber and tall wood buildings are being built across the province. Brock Commons Tallwood House was an influential landmark project in the early stages of tall wood construction. The 18-storey mass timber hybrid residential building on the campus of The University of British Columbia was the tallest wood building at the time of its completion, and as a demonstration project provided local and global audiences with an inside look into the challenges and solutions of such tall wood projects. It serves as an important precedent-setting project throughout the manual. 

Other B.C. mass timber projects featured in the guide include

Brock Commons Tallwood House | The design team made use of both design and construction modelling, including the application of Virtual Design and Construction modelling (VDC), to streamline and carefully sequence the assembly of the building’s 18-storeys. | Photo credit: Brudder 

Brock Commons Tallwood House

Fast + Epp, a Vancouver-based structural engineering firm with tall wood experience, incorporated earthquake-resistance building technology into their own headquarters, to test its potential use in future buildings. The technology uses patented friction dampers to anchor the CLT shear walls and help the building self-centre during an earthquake. 

The Fast + Epp Home Office gives readers an innovative example of seismic design for mass timber construction, that could be applied to taller wood buildings in the future.  

These projects demonstrate the province’s leadership in tall wood construction. By supporting a growing number of municipalities to be early adopters of tall wood policies, B.C. has emerged as a central contributor to the growing global interest in building bigger and taller buildings with wood. 

Fast + Epp Home Office | CLT wall shock absorbers and wall connectors. | Photo credit: Michael Elkan Photography 

Tectonus schock absorber Credit Michael Elkan Photography

UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) used BIM and energy modelling software as a critical part of the project’s design process, and helped the team compare and assess different combinations of wood building systems and strategies. Even after completion, the BIM model continues to provide facility managers with data related to the efficient operation of the building and monitoring energy use.

UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) | Photo: Don Erhardt 

Exterior night time view of UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) showing exterior wood paneling and large glass expanses

The first 12-story encapsulated mass timber construction building in B.C., Tallwood 1 at District 56 brings much-needed rental housing to the fast-growing community of Langford on south Vancouver Island. Its hybrid mass timber structure combines a concrete foundation with mass timber and structural steel elements rising from level 2 to 12. The project takes advantage of CLT’s two-way spanning capability, using a point-supported CLT system—comprised of CLT panels, glue-laminated timber (glulam) columns, and few to no obstructive beams. The project is part of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) affordable housing program. 

Tallwood 1 at District 56 | Rendering courtesy of Design Build Services

Tallwood 1 Rendering

New tall wood projects in B.C. are on the horizon

The Monad Granville building is a rental, mixed-use, nine-storey tall wood development that serves as a model for prefabricated mass timber construction that could be replicated in future urban housing. The building sits on an infill site and will use mass timber façade panels tested to meet Passive House certification requirements for air tightness, water tightness and seismic standards. 

Monad Granville | Rendering courtesy of LWPAC Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture Inc.

Exterior rendering show the rear view of Monad Granville featuring residential balconies with wood finishing.

The Hive (2150 Keith Drive), a 10-storey tall wood office building in Vancouver’s emerging False Creek Flats neighbourhood features an advanced mass timber system that includes glulam beams, columns, braces, CLT floor panels, shear walls and balconies. The building’s design uses a perimeter braced structural system that creates a striking expression of the building from the exterior and eliminates the need for conventional cast-in-place concrete cores.

Both projects will help demonstrate how mass timber construction can deliver cost-effective, high-quality climate-smart buildings.  

The Hive (2150 Keith Drive) | Rendering courtesy of DIALOG

Keith Drive Rendering Balcony Gardens