CLT Gets Double Boost: ICC Clears Path for Taller Mass Timber Buildings in the U.S., Plus Overall Demand for CLT Predicted to Grow Significantly

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The demand for cross-laminated timber (CLT) products—which are beginning to be viewed more favorably as sustainable and cost-effective options for building and construction applications—is expected to drastically increase over the next five years, according to a new market research report.

CLT is an engineered wood building product made by mechanically fastening or gluing layers of boards to form panels with the layers set perpendicular to one another. Zion Market Research, which issued the new report, divides the market in two based on type of CLT construction, and segments it by application by residential buildings, which covers half the market share; educational institutes, government/public buildings, and industrial and commercial spaces.

The new research report predicts that the global CLT market, valued at $603 million in 2017, will grow to 1,606 million by the year 2024. Europe led the market in 2017, accounting for 60 percent of the market share, with Germany out front, the report said. Other major consumers of CLT were New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.

Earthquake-prone countries like Japan and India are showing more interest in using CLT in the construction of both residential and non-residential building due to its earthquake- and fire-resistance properties, which is also helping to fuel demand.

The report said that the North American market share in 2017 was approximately $130.8 million, as CLT was being used in an increased number of residential buildings and institutions. Use in residential buildings for floors, ceilings and walls should continue to grow in this market, which is predicted to become the second largest in the future.

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ICC Move Paves Way for Taller Buildings Made of CLT

The International Code Council (ICC) is clearing the way to expand the use of mass timber building products in the United States — like CLT — and allow its use in taller buildings. The move is viewed as a boon to the budding industry that manufactures CLT for the North American market, now limited to a small handful of producers in the U.S. and Canada.

Implementation of new building codes that incorporate mass timber construction likely are only a few short years away. The ICC, which develops model building codes that are adopted by most U.S. states and communities, released the unofficial voting results on proposed code changes it considered in 2018 in December. They included passage of the entire package of 14 proposed code changes for tall mass timber construction, according to the American Wood Council. The proposals create three new types of construction that set fire safety requirements, allowable heights, areas and number of stories for tall mass timber buildings.

The three new types of construction would permit mass timber buildings ranging from nine to 18 stories tall. Official results are expected to be announced during the first quarter of 2019, and the new provisions would be included in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC), according to the AWC, which is a trade organization serving the wood products industry.

More States Expected to Allow CLT in Tall-Building Construction

Currently only one state — Oregon — allows CLT in tall building construction up to 18 stories, having modified its building code in 2018. Washington has taken similar action, and it will be effective in March of this year. But with the recent ICC action, more states are expected to follow suit, although the process will take some time.

Last fall, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order encouraging the adoption of mass timber material into the state’s building code, although the step is likely a few years away. CLT already has been approved by 30 states for construction of buildings up to six stories tall (85 feet) since being recognized by the IBC in 2015. “Eighty-five feet is the current maximum allowable building height for mass timber,” said Kenneth Bland, vice president of codes and regulations for the American Wood Council. “The 2021 IBC will permit mass timber buildings up to 270 feet high (24-25 stories) for certain occupancies.”

Most states have processes to update their building codes. Once the new provisions of the IBC are available in late 2020, individual states would begin those processes to adopt them, noted Bland, so adoption likely is a few years off.

However, the issue is an important priority for many states, indicated Robert Glowinski, AWC president and CEO. “There has been a lot of interest from the states to accelerate the tall wood provisions,” he said. “We expect that there will be more states acting ahead of the normal updating process to enable the construction of tall mass timber buildings.”

The number of companies manufacturing CLT has doubled in the past two years “and we know there are others in the pipeline,” said Glowinski. Currently, two U.S. companies produce CLT, and three in Canada, with other production facilities being planned.

The forest products industry is a conservative one, Glowinski noted, and there are likely other companies that are considering investments to produce CLT but have been waiting to see what the ICC would do. “With this approval…we will likely see more capacity coming on line in the United States.”

The use of mass timber for tall building construction is much more advanced in other countries, noted Glowinski. There are hundreds of buildings around the world constructed with mass timber building products, and more are being constructed, particularly at taller heights.