Timber is a word that gets used in the construction industry a lot. This is no surprise considering most homes in the United States are built using timber and other wood products.
While homes in the US have traditionally been built using all-timber construction, modern buildings mix timber, concrete, brick, steel and a variety of manmade materials like heavy plastics and vinyl.
These materials add strength and durability to structures, but they also require more resources to produce, and discarding of building materials containing plastics and chemical mixtures can be problematic from an ecological standpoint.
As such, builders are taking a closer look at timber in terms of finding ways to maximize its strength and durability in ways that can compete with manmade building materials.
Timber Vs. Lumber Construction Materials
Timber refers to the wood used to create lumber. Lumber itself refers to the processed wood that is used in construction. Because the two terms are somewhat interchangeable, timber construction is usually referring to the same thing as construction using lumber, or wood. This is as opposed to steel construction or construction undertaken using other materials.
While wood building construction tends to yield strong structures that can stand the test of time, the density of wood makes it a poor choice for building very tall structures.
The support simply doesn’t exist for standard-sized wood building materials to support the crushing weight of a building that is many stories high.
This is changing, however, as a new timber processing method, mass timber, is being developed, tested and incorporated into tall building design across the country.
Mass timber construction involves using traditional timber to create layered pieces of lumber. Essentially, many pieces of timber are glued together to form very thick and strong pieces of wood that can be used in place of traditional support materials like concrete and steel.
While mass timber construction, sometimes known as tall timber construction, has been used in Europe for some time now, it is just beginning to gain traction among developers in the United States.
Timber walls and even entire mass timber buildings can be created using tall timber, allowing architects, engineers, developers and construction professionals the ability to build large structures without the need for traditional materials that are costly and unsustainable.
Sustainability In Heavy Timber Construction
In fact, sustainability is one of the biggest driving factors behind the development of the heavy timber movement. Because lumber derived from timber tends to require less processing relative to other methods of producing construction materials, buildings that use mass timber are better for the environment.
To add to this, wood has the ability to soak up carbon from the air, making it a potential air purification alternative to electronic systems and HVAC components.
This further aids in the sustainability of mass timber as fewer resources are required to operate a building made from these materials.
As an added benefit, timber is a renewable resource, and tree farming could produce a potentially endless supply of resources for builders to work with.
Will Mass Timber Construction Be A New Standard?
Some developers believe that mass timber will become a new standard in construction, but others aren’t so sure. While the use of mass timber provides new opportunities for construction professionals, it does have its drawbacks.
Because timber is not as strong as steel and concrete, even in the form of mass timber, it is limited in its ability to be used for very tall structures.
Additionally, even when numerous stories are built using mass timber, the foundation of a very large structure still requires steel and concrete.
Fireproofing is another concern when using any type of flammable material in construction, but most mass timber development methods take into account fire retardation.
Even though these materials resist fire, developers are still keeping an eye on testing to ensure mass timber will provide a safe alternative to less-flammable alternatives.
Although over one thousand tall timber structures have been built around the United States as of 2022, it may still be a while before this approach to construction catches on.
Builders are hopeful, however, that the right mix of modern construction materials and timber can bring about more affordable, efficient and sustainable building practices in the future.