British Columbia expanding use of mass timber in buildings

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CaDCR staff writer

Proposed changes to the building code will expand the use of mass timber to build taller buildings and to make stronger communities.

Changes would allow buildings, such as schools, shopping centres and housing to be built faster, leading to a better environment and economy.

“These proposed mass timber building code changes align with our recent work to deliver more homes near transit hubs by allowing taller buildings and more sustainable housing options near transit,” housing minister Ravi Kahlon said in a statement. “These changes will also help reduce carbon pollution, support the forestry sector, create jobs, build more homes and lead to more vibrant, healthier communities.”

Proposed code changes to the British Columbia Building and Fire Codes (BC Codes 2024) would allow taller mass timber buildings, as many as 18 storeys for residential and office buildings, instead of the current 12-storey limit.

New rules would also allow for more exposed mass timber or fewer layers of encapsulation in buildings, depending on a building’s height, and allow more building types, such as schools, shopping centres and industrial facilities, to be built using mass timber.

“Mass timber is a strong, clean building technology, and with these changes we can create astonishing buildings that display our world-class mass timber sector,” said Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. “Through our Mass Timber Action Plan, we are investing in mass timber training and finding new avenues to grow our economy while reducing our environmental impact.”

The proposed changes are posted for public comment on the Canadian Board for Harmonized Construction Codes website. After the comment period, the B.C. government will decide on what changes are ready to move forward and what changes, if any, need further technical analysis. Key changes are expected to be adopted as soon as spring 2024.

“We all want innovative, efficient and cost-effective ways to address our overlapping housing and climate crises,” said Linda Buchanan, mayor, City of North Vancouver. “The City of North Vancouver has long been a leader in leveraging mass timber technology to tackle these challenges.

“We welcome these proposed changes to the BC Building Code, as they will allow communities to deliver more homes faster, unlock a new era of design possibilities and reduce carbon emissions.”

B.C. and Quebec created a joint task group to develop the proposed code changes on an accelerated timeline to expand mass timber in Canada. Once the public comment period is complete, a package of proposed code changes will be made available to provinces and territories to consider for adoption in their codes, and for future consideration for the national building codes. Proposals have also been reviewed by an expert technical advisory group made up of fire safety experts, regulators, engineering and building code experts from across Canada.

Increasing the opportunities for mass timber construction comes at the same time the province is addressing the housing crisis with new laws introduced this fall to increase density in urban areas through small-scale multi-unit housing and transit-oriented development, creating more mass timber opportunities to build homes more quickly with a lower carbon footprint.

“BCIT is delivering relevant, hands-on training to help learners master in-demand skills for the mass timber sector,” said Guido Wimmers, dean, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) school of construction and the environment. “This announcement supports the sector to fill current knowledge gaps in industry and combat skilled-worker challenges, while also supporting clean growth and renewable resources for the economy.”

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