The Hottest New Building Material Is… Wood?!?


Wood is one of the oldest and most common building materials, but because of disastrous fires like the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the industry started using concrete and steel in the last century. More recently, however, wood is making a comeback! Mass timber, specifically, is really the hot new wood, which is made up of putting pieces of soft wood together to form a high-density wood product. Some high-profile architects and builders are even purporting that it will be the primary material for skyscrapers in future cities. The Pacific Northwest are leaders in this trend already. Both Washington and Oregon state have accepted changes in building code to support mass timber in high-rises – and In fact, Portland’s own CARBON12 building is the tallest all-wood building in the United States!  So why all the hubbub? Here are some of the reasons why it’s making such an impression in the trades:


It’s more sustainable

Most people think about the operation of energy when they look at sustainability, forgetting the impact of materials. Mass timber makes a significant impact on the earth because it significantly reduces carbon emissions in comparison to steel and concrete. The manufacturing of concrete and cement account for about 8 percent of global GHG emissions, which is more than most countries (besides the US and China). Steel accounts for another 5 percent. The Journal of Sustainable Forestry reported that if we replaced sustainably harvested wood for steel and concrete in buildings and bridges, we could globally reduce annual CO2 emissions by 14 to 31%!” They noted that the biggest decline in CO2 emissions was from avoiding excess fossil fuel energy needed just to make steel and concrete structures!


It’s actually better in fire!

Many people don’t realize how badly steel reacts in a fire, as it becomes highly unpredictable once it reaches a certain temperature. Mass timber isn’t as strong as steel, but it keeps it’s structural integrity for several hours in a hot fire because it self-extinguishes and protects the interior. And because it’s compressed masses of wood, it’s not like stick wood that ignites quickly. It’s significantly less flammable to begin with!


Allows for more flexible design.

Architects and builders can really create a design that fits their vision and client’s needs better with mass timber, because you can create the shape and size of the material based on the building project. Designers essentially send custom plans to a factory for prefabrication, in a process that they refer to as “file to factory.” This also means that over time, this can continually adapt to trends and innovations that change building styles and methods.


Makes construction faster with lower labor cost.

With standard construction, materials are ordered in quantity and cut and assembled on site to building specifications. Because mass timber is prefabricated, it basically eliminates the labor to do any cuts, as well as any material waste! That also means they can be shipped to the site to be assembled just in time, which means less obstruction or warehouse space needed. Which ultimately results in a much faster process to assemble on site – about 25% faster according to the softwood lumber industry.

Performs better in earthquakes.

Concrete buildings crack in earthquakes, so they usually need to be demolished and replaced. Wood buildings, on the other hand, can be repaired and restored. And because mass timber is lighter, it’s great for urban areas that don’t work well for heavier concrete. Even better, the performance of mass timber in an earthquake has been tested and has proven to be quite good.

If you’re looking for craftsmen who can help you with your mass timber or other projects, give Madden Industrial Staffing a call today! We’re here to answer any recruitment Qs and attract the best talent in the trades, so you can focus on building!