From Evolution to Revolution
We're sharing a sneak preview into our 2021 San Diego Trends Report. Read more below.
Mass timber technology utilizes one of our oldest building materials—a natural, renewable resource—and allows us to build tall wood structures that have significant carbon benefits as well as contributions to forest health and wildfire resiliency. In addition to environmental benefits, early mass timber developers have found value in the differentiated product provided by the timber frame and structural floor panels when exposed on the underside as ceiling.
Over the last 100 years, the historic makeup of forested landscapes in the West has changed from patchwork patterns with natural firebreaks to forests with much greater density. Combined with climate change impacts—including warmer, drier and windier climates—these overly dense forests create prime conditions for increasingly large and catastrophic wildfires.
Mass timber products can be made from relatively small-diameter trees and those affected by insects, disease and wildfires, which creates a market incentive for forest thinning and other landscape restoration efforts that reduce the risk of these high-severity fires. As the mass timber market matures, some manufacturers have begun using smaller logs and different species that come from thinning forests in fire-prone areas. Some are also producing cross-laminated timber (CLT) from wildfire-salvaged wood, yielding multiple benefits that include removing dead trees from forests, providing income for private forestland owners whose lands have burned, and helping to keep the costs of mass timber competitive to grow the market.
For example, the Wilson Townhomes project in Portland, OR is being constructed with fire-salvaged CLT panels from Oregon’s 2020 Highway 22 Santiam Valley burn. This 14-lot subdivision will deliver a mix of four and five-bedroom luxury townhomes with exposed CLT panels, providing the warmth and authenticity of a locally-sourced material while contributing to the sustainability of our built environment. Wilson Townhome developer, Noel Johnson, completed several early mass timber speculative office developments that achieved faster than market leasing velocities and continued to be attractive to tenants through the releasing and sub-leasing cycle. Noel believes many of the benefits of using timber structures in office product will also translate to value creation for climate-focused households. “Using wood structures is a tangible example of a circular economy as well as a carbon-friendly, ESG investment, making it desired by the many stakeholders who have influence over development success in Portland,” he said.
While California has no mass timber manufacturing so far, many public agencies and officials are supporting demonstration projects and code provisions to increase the demand for wood products in the state. In 2019, the California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) held a mass timber competition intended inspire interest and support for innovative wood products that can contribute to “the health and resiliency of California forests, and advance sustainability in the built environment.”
According to the announcement, “California is the largest consumer of engineered wood products west of the Mississippi River, yet almost none is produced in the state. By showcasing opportunities for mass timber, GovOps seeks to stimulate the demand for buildings constructed using mass timber and generate investor interest in potential in-state production capacity while advancing its climate change and green building objectives.”
Chief Mike Richwine, California State Fire Marshal, sponsored the proposal for California’s early adoption of the tall wood code provisions allowing for timber buildings up to 18 stories in height. The changes were approved and published as an amendment to the 2019 California Building Code (CBC) and became effective on July 1, 2021. Citing advantages of the tall wood codes, Chief Richwine said, “It will increase the pace and scale of our wildland fire prevention and forest management goals of treating 500 thousand acres per year by thinning the forest of smaller diameter trees that can be used in the production of cross-laminated timber and other mass timber assemblies. While wood products provide the benefit of storing carbon, another benefit or advantage is that mass timber construction can also help reduce the carbon footprint of concrete and steel production.”
California and Oregon share many similarities, from vast forests with Douglas fir trees ideal for softwood timber harvesting and stakeholders with strong sustainability goals, to increasingly catastrophic wildfires and other climate change impacts, and a housing shortage desperate for innovative construction solutions. Mass timber is one of the tools available to help mitigate climate change and provide additional housing with the added benefit of reducing wildfire fuels and supporting healthy forests.
 Changing Wildfire and Climatic Regimes in the 21st Century Western U.S., Paul Hessburg, USDA Forest Service and University of Washington-Oregon State University, www.woodworks.org/wp-content/uploads/presentation_slides-HESSBURG-Wildfire-Day-1-WDS-201111.pdf
 Cal GovOps 2019 California Mass Timber Building Competition: www.govops.ca.gov/2019/01/04/2019-california-mass-timber-building-competition/
Join us on Wednesday, October 20th for the third event in the ULI San Diego/Tijuana Fire + Water Symposium Series, How Innovative Design and Building Technology Get us to Net Zero.
Among the highlights, Portland developer Ben Kaiser will share details—including financials—on The Canyons, a 70-unit multifamily development and the latest project to be featured in the WoodWorks series of Mass Timber Business Case Studies.
WoodWorks is one of ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance 2021 Innovation Partners. The Innovation Partner program is a collection of noteworthy technology companies and service/product providers advancing energy and sustainability innovations. WoodWorks staff have the expertise to assist with mass timber market studies, creation of experienced project teams, and all aspects of wood building design and construction.