Wood is the new steel for Oregon builders

Building designers in Oregon are increasingly turning to mass timber as the go-to building material. Also called engineered wood, mass timber is exactly what it sounds like: very large sections of wood that can replace structural elements in a building previously only reserved for materials like concrete and steel. The advantages of mass timber are many, such as the use of pre-fabricated elements that often make construction much faster, using a renewable material that stores carbon, and even seismic benefits.

Examples of mass timber projects are popping up all over the state, including the canopy of a redesigned Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. The first deliveries of cross-laminated timber (CLT), one of the most popular examples of a mass timber product, also arrived a few weeks ago for the mezzanines of the University of Oregon’s Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

While mass timber popularity is growing across the country, the demand is especially high in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the product’s American research, manufacturing and building is concentrated according to The Register-Guard.

“Economically and environmentally, it’s really a winner for the state,” UO architecture professor Judith Sheine told The Register-Guard.

Oregon was first in the country to change its building code and allow for timber structures higher than six stories. The state is also home to several mass timber manufacturers, and is fourth in the nation for the number of mass timber projects finished or under construction since 2011.

Ethan Martin is regional director with WoodWorks, a company that provides design assistance for wood builders. Martin told the Register-Guard he recently had to cancel a vacation because the demand for wood building designs are coming in at such a high rate.

Martin points out that aside from using a sustainable resource, one reason for the interest is the long-term viability of mass timber products. Because mass timber is a composite material, it can be made from smaller trees. CLT, for example, is made by gluing solid lumber together to increase strength, and is used in more than half of all U.S. mass timber projects.

Oregon Forests Forever recently toured First Tech Federal Credit Union’s new Hillsboro office that is a local example of a mass timber structure built with CLT. According to Swinerton, the commercial construction company for the building, it was four percent less expensive to build and was completed four months faster than if they had used steel. Because they chose wood, it also stored 4,192 metric tons of carbon in the building and avoided 1,622 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s equivalent to removing 1,229 cars from the road for a year.

This carbon storage takes place anytime wood is chosen as a building material, including at the University of Oregon’s new Knight Campus.

“We can make efficient, beautiful and incredibly sustainable buildings,” Sheine told the Register-Guard. “Who wouldn’t be excited about that?”