Why Wood Could Become the New Steel

A not-so-new building material is making a comeback. The material is known as mass timber, or in simpler terms, wood. Wood was once the literal building block of ancient civilizations. It quickly became overshadowed upon the innovation of steel and concrete because of its likelihood of catching fire.

However, an innovative way of using wood has put the material back into the spotlight. This method includes cross-laminating pieces of wood, typically made from conifers like pine and spruce, to produce a stronger and more flexible material that is then manufactured into columns, panels, and beams. These slabs of wood can be used to make floors, walls, ceilings, and entire buildings. The tallest mass timber structure in the world was recently built in Norway and stands 18 stories high. In fact, an 80-story wooden skyscraper could come to downtown Chicago in the coming years.

What happened to its detrimental feature of flammability you may ask? In the situation of a fire, the outer layer of mass timber chars in a way that forms an insulting layer which protects the interior wood from damaging. Therefore, even in an intense fire, it can retain its structural integrity and essentially self-extinguish. It is also important to note that steel is terrible in fire. Once it reaches its yielding point, its internal structure is jeopardized.

Commercial developers are beginning to opt for this material because of other major benefits that differentiate it from its competitors. One primary advantage of the material is its sustainability. Cement, concrete, and steel manufacturers are responsible for about 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas these materials worsen the pollution problem, building with wood offsets greenhouse gas emissions because of wood’s carbon-storing quality.

In addition to sustainability, mass timber is also affordable. Because its panels are ready-made and assembled on site, projects made with the material prove to have a shorter timeframe and safer construction sites which subsequently help to reduce cost.

Wood also possesses design benefits that make a space more aesthetically appealing. Wood is known for providing incredible acoustics and lighting to any space.

There are clear benefits to the utilization of wood in construction. If they are to be taken seriously, commercial developers can expect to build more projects at an affordable rate, all while reducing the industry’s carbon footprint and revolutionizing the architectural world of design.

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