Would you live in a 20-story wooden building?

Why not? Despite the fact that wood construction of tall buildings is slowly but surely catching on, many people still think that wood construction is inherently dangerous and unsafe. And this may be due to the propaganda being spread by those involved in steel and concrete construction.

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The world is seeing a lot of wood construction in taller buildings nowadays as a response to sustainability amid continuous urbanization of cities.

Re-Emerging Trend: Wood Construction
Wood construction may have been driven by the continuous urbanization of cities. As people are pushed to build sustainably and densely, the use of wood in tall structures had become an appealing option, and for very good reasons:

  • Wood is a renewable building material
  • Wood has nearly zero embodied energy since it’s grown with solar power
  • Wood is strong and light because it’s a cellular material like bone
  • Wood is relatively easy to work with. With the right size aluminum shims, wooden components achieve the right clearance and stability
  • Wood lends itself to high quality prefabrication techniques
  • Wood is cost-effective since it reduces transport costs due to lesser weight compared to steel and concrete
  • Wood reduces carbon emissions
  • Wood reduces the need for large cranes because of its light weight, making the lifting process safer

With all these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to live in a tall building of wood construction?

Fire Risk
The only reason remaining perhaps why you’re hesitant to make the shift to wood construction is on the structure’s fire risk.

Guess what? The massive wood construction dictated for taller structures doesn’t burn readily regardless if it has protection or not. A large timber beam, like a log on a fire may char on the surface but will keep its integrity for hours before fire even starts to penetrate the inside.

If you compare this with the behavior of a steel beam in a fire, you’d see that it would sag faster than wood and lose its rigidity, especially if the steel beam doesn’t have enough protection.  This alone illustrates that wood construction is just as safe as its counterpart in steel construction.

Restrictive Building Codes
The unfortunate thing is that many building codes globally usually specify that the structure of a building should be non-combustible. The strict interpretation of this provision completely precludes the use of timber or wood. Although there are other codes that specify for the timber to be protected by plasterboard, it’s too simplistic.

An example of a wooden framed multi-storey building ZGF COTTER ARCHITECTS INCPHOTO
Building codes should be modified and revised to cater to the specific requirements pertinent to wood construction.

The important thing that should be considered and integrated into the building codes is for the occupants of the wood construction building to safely escape in the event of a fire, or that the fire department is able to do their job safely and without harm, and that the fire doesn’t spread to other buildings.

Proper Engineering Perspective On Wood Construction
These issues should be addressed if the industry wants to grow wood construction as a sustainable option. This means industry leaders and players should start assessing wooden structures in a proper “engineering” way, in much like the same way as it is done with steel buildings. The industry should look at how a building behaves instead of just taking into consideration the charring of the individual wooden components.

Successful Wood Construction Buildings
Some of the existing structures that have shown and exhibited great achievement in terms of wood construction include:

  • The 9-story wooden Stradthaus development, Murray Grove in London. In this structure, the beauty of wood is completely hidden behind the plasterboard protection.
  • The Forte Tower in Melbourne, Australia. This structure made use of regular timber walls.
There are existing wood construction success around the world.

Wood Use In Combination With Other Materials
Designers and builders recommend the use not just of timber walls but solid timber columns as well. This would enable the structures to adapt to the changing needs and use open-plan offices.  Architects think that they could build up to 40 stories in wood and it will be just as safe as the other structures around.

This clearly shows that wood has potential for use in mid-rise to high-rise construction. Combining wood with other materials like steel, concrete, etc. would be a more intelligent option. Taller buildings may be constructed using timber columns and floors, but with a concrete core to provide lateral stability. Buildings of wood construction may also have stairwells with non-combustible materials and roofs that are combustion resistant.

By being creative and innovative and making the most of the benefits of wood combined with other materials, the industry is headed to creating buildings in which anyone would like to live in.

Are you ready to move in to your 20-story wooden apartment building?

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1 thought on “Wood Construction In Taller Buildings, Is It Safe?”

  1. My biggest concern with living in a wood constructed apartment or condo would be the threat of fire. No amount of insurance could replace certain things that I possess. Some things are just irreplaceable. In any case, I can certainly understand why the steel and concrete suppliers and builders would be against a cheaper alternative form of construction. If people can get over the stigma, you would see a sizemick shift and that means millions of dollars lost for certain suppliers.

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