Understanding mass timber

There’s a growing revolution in the building industry, as mass timber continues to evolve from an emerging technology to the preferred norm for structural building components in British Columbia (B.C.). These innovative, sustainable building materials, created using B.C.’s renewable forest resources, are inspiring new perspectives for all building types, changing the way in which projects are designed, built, and experienced.


The family of engineered wood components known as mass timber can be used in place of steel or concrete to create a structure that provides durable, cost-effective performance with less embodied carbon. Mass timber is used to construct everything from tall timber towers and long-span sports arenas to office buildings, multi-family structures, educational facilities, and more, adding value in terms of warmth, wellness, and workability.

There are many reasons why architects, owners, developers, and other building professionals choose mass timber for their projects. These engineered products are manufactured using wood, one of B.C.’s renewable resources. They offer a structurally efficient yet low-carbon alternative to steel or concrete. Building codes continue to advance in favour of mass timber construction, giving designers more opportunities every day to innovate. And mass timber can be used to differentiate a development by creating a unique design aesthetic that allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.

wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School Seismic Replacement
Photo credit: Bright Photography

Two construction workers on ladders, guiding a glulam beam across two CLT panels with the help of a crane.

What is mass timber?

Mass timber describes a family of engineered wood products known for their strength, durability, versatility and sustainability. Mass timber products are made by taking smaller wood elements such as dimension lumber, veneers, or strands and connecting them with adhesives, dowels, nails, or screws to create larger structural building components.

These load-bearing building materials can be used in a wide variety of structural applications: beams and columns; floor, roof and wall panels; tall wall framing studs or roof rafters; door and window headers; and more.

Learn about the rise of mass timber and how it’s changing the face of the construction industry.

Benefits of mass timber construction

Lower-carbon construction

Construction materials contribute significantly to the world’s overall CO2 emissions. Mass timber products are manufactured using wood, a renewable resource. They have a smaller carbon footprint than steel or concrete, making them the material of choice for design professionals who want to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of traditional construction. In addition, wood naturally sequesters carbon, which means that the stored carbon will remain in the material for as long as the product remains in service.

Glue-laminated timber fabrication | Photo credit: Nik West

Close up of glue-laminated timber in a factory.

Design versatility

Engineered for strength and durability, exceptionally strong yet lightweight, mass timber offers something for everyone. Wood’s light weight helps building designers reduce foundation requirements, which saves time, money, and carbon by using less concrete. Mass timber material specifications can be configured to meet specific requirements, such as long spans, heavy loads, or exterior exposure. Because of its natural beauty, most mass timber products can be left exposed in certain building types, eliminating the cost of adding additional interior finish materials. Mass timber can even be combined with other materials in hybrid configurations designed to meet special loading or lateral requirements.

Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat Student Building, Coast Mountain College | Photo credit: Bright Photography

Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat student building central celebration space lounge area

Speed of construction

Time is money in the construction industry, and mass timber use speeds construction. Materials can be prefabricated, which means that they arrive at the jobsite cut to exact length or with pre-cut openings. They can even be pre-fitted with connectors, so that components can be lifted directly from the truck and into place at the jobsite, saving time and reducing impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. Mass timber installation requires fewer workers onsite, which also helps mitigate safety risks. Prefabrication also reduces jobsite waste, and since B.C. is home to many suppliers of high quality mass timber products, logistics are simplified.

Alliance Française | Photo credit: Arkitek Creative

Alliance Francaise Vancouver mass timber construction

Biophilic and wellness

Wood has recognized advantages when it comes to creating an environment that fosters health and wellbeing. When building occupants are exposed to natural elements like wood, it creates a direct connection with nature that has been shown to help improve mood, health, productivity, and comfort. Many architects and developers are using mass timber to help entice workers back to the office, using wood’s natural warmth to create a unique, engaging occupant experience.

oN5 | Photo credit: KK Law

Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat student building central celebration space.

Community and societal benefits

Use of locally made products manufactured from renewable resources benefits everyone in B.C. Use of mass timber creates jobs—from timber harvesting and trucking to manufacturing, fabrication, and installation. Because these products are made by combining wood elements, manufacturers can use smaller diameter logs harvested during thinning operations, designed to protect forests from wildfire. Some mass timber components can even be made using fire- and insect-damaged timber, which helps support active forest management that will help B.C. continue to sustainably manage its forests.

Forest harvesting operation in B.C. Coastal region  | Photo credit: Nik West

forest harvesting operation coastfibre in Gordan River, BC
WoodWorks BC

Need technical support for your next timber-built project?

Contact WoodWorks BC for free technical assistance.

WIDC construction | Photo: Paul Alberts (Ardor Media)



B.C. leads the way with mass timber buildings

Looking for project ideas? Check out these innovative, inspiring mass timber projects. The list is searchable by market segment, material, and location. There are more than 370 buildings in B.C. using mass timber, from public structures to commercial and multi-family residential applications, explore buildings using mass timber in our project gallery.

Mass timber projects
Brock Commons Tallwood House
Brock Commons Tallwood House

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Rendering of The Exchange lobby
The Exchange

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Exterior wide view of the full front entrance of KF Aerospace, with pink sunset in the background and lit up hangar wings.
KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence

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oN5 top floor mass timber floor panel being flown in
oN5 Building

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How mass timber construction works

Mass timber can be used in many applications and building types, so it’s important to understand the strengths and advantages of each product when designing a project. There is an ever-evolving number of options and systems when it comes to mass timber. Using various combinations and sizes, mass timber products can serve as beams, columns, floors, roofs and walls considering the directional strength of each wood product. In contrast to conventional concrete and steel systems that tend to follow standard templates, mass timber systems offer the potential for greater flexibility, albeit not without some challenges.

Hybrid mass timber systems

Mass timber can be combined with light-frame wood, concrete, steel, or almost any other type of material needed for the building’s structural needs. A hybrid approach capitalizes on the unique strengths that each material brings to the project, using the right material for the right application. Common examples include mass timber with steel braced frames or concrete shear walls, a steel framed building with CLT, DLT, or NLT panels, or even mass timber-concrete composite panels.

Trout Lake Community Centre
Photo: KK Law

Trout Lake KK LawI TRLK 037 11782 11863

Post-and-beam system

These systems, which echo the type of framing used in traditional heavy timber buildings, combine beams, posts, and decking, all connected using steel fasteners. Posts and beams are typically glulam, although some projects may use PSL. Decking can be CLT, NLT, DLT, or other types of timber frame decking.

Earth Sciences Building
Photo: KK Law

Earth Sciences UBC KK Law 110630 FII Day 01 132 12332 1200x800 5b2df79

Mass timber floor and wall systems

In contrast to post-and-beam, designers can take advantage of mass timber panels’ two-way spanning capability. This can include mass timber panels constructed to form a honeycomb structure well-suited to handle both vertical and lateral loads. In these systems, mass timber panels—similar to reinforced concrete and steel—form both floor and wall, with the walls bearing the load of the structure. In some instances, mass timber may form the core of a building, in place of concrete.

KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence
Photo: Shawn Talbot

Interior of aerospace museum, built to look like an aircraft hanger

Tall wood

The sky’s (becoming) the limit when it comes to using mass timber, as building codes evolve to allow taller mass timber buildings —up to 18 storeys in B.C. Mass timber’s high strength and light weight are ideally suited to the task, and prefabrication enables safe, speedy installation. Mass timber products can be precisely manufactured, which allows the building to go together with the precision needed for tall buildings.

Construction of Brock Commons Tallwood House
Photo: KK Law

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
BC EMTC guidelines

New guidelines for designing tall mass timber buildings

Engineers and Geoscientists BC and the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) have published new guidelines to clarify the expectations for professional practice for architects and engineers designing mass timber buildings up to 12 storeys.

Brock Commons | Photo: KK Law


Considerations and resources for mass timber design

Designers can create high performing buildings using mass timber. Building codes and technology are constantly advancing which may help designers create and optimize the value added. Here are some of the most common design considerations.

Code compliance

Mass timber has been accepted by building codes for decades, but changes recently made to the British Columbia Building and Fire Codes (B.C. Codes 2024) enable development of mass timber buildings of up to 18 storeys for residential and office buildings. The changes pave the way for projects with more exposed mass timber or fewer layers of encapsulation, depending on a building’s height.

Further Reading

Mass Timber Navigagor: Understanding energy and code considerations for mass timber buildings 

Brock Commons Tallwood House: Code Compliance Case Study

Seismic performance

Because of wood’s high strength and low weight, mass timber structures are uniquely capable of withstanding lateral movement due to seismic or wind forces. Wood is naturally ductile, which means mass timber elements can flex and return to their original shape when forces are applied. In addition, mass timber elements weigh substantially less than comparable steel or concrete assemblies, giving wood an extra advantage when subjected to lateral forces. Read more more about wood’s resilience and performance attributes.

Acoustics and Vibration

Occupant comfort is key to a successful building project, and mass timber can help building designers meet their acoustical and vibration requirements. Acoustical sound mats, lightweight concrete, or other materials are typically placed over the top of CLT, NLT, or DLT floor panels to increase the mass of the floor structure and limit sound transition and impact noise. In addition, there are many techniques available to control vibration of a mass timber floor panel. Learn more about designing for acoustics and vibration in mass timber buildings. 


Historically, insurance companies have been reluctant to insure mass timber buildings, primarily because they were unfamiliar with the material and because technology was advancing so rapidly. FII and others in the industry continue to work to educate insurers on the safety and performance of mass timber buildings.

Further Reading

A Guide for Insuring Mass Timber in Canada 

Insuring your next mass timber project

MEP Integration

Because mass timber panels, beams and columns can be prefabricated to precise tolerances and delivered to the jobsite with pre-cut openings, designers can collaborate with builders to make upfront decisions that facilitate fast, efficient installation of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems within the structure.

Fire resistance

Mass timber possesses inherent fire resistance properties. When exposed to heat and flame, the material chars; this outer layer of char protects the member’s interior, which allows it to maintain its structural integrity. Mass timber elements are sized so that the building can be supported even if the wood members are charred. All mass timber building components are fire tested and rated to ensure compliance with building regulations for occupant safety. B.C. has also adopted provisions from the National Building Code that allows for encapsulated mass timber construction up to 12 storeys.

Mass timber decision tools

As mass timber offers a growing number of structural solutions, design professionals can leverage new industry tools and resources to assist with conceptual testing, analysis and trialling of different design options. From online calculators and software to the latest guides and research, explore this collection of mass timber tools to find the best design solution for your project.

Find B.C. mass timber suppliers

B.C. is home to a growing number of mass timber suppliers located throughout the Province. The B.C. Wood Supplier Directory connects you with forest product suppliers—including mass timber and engineered wood products. These quality producers continue to innovate and explore the possibilities for new products, applications, services, and technology.

Photo: UBC Wood in Manufacturing | Credit: Brudder Productions