5 Legitimate Reasons for Using Mass Timber in Multifamily Construction

4 June 2024AEC, Construction, Offsite, Sustainabilityaesthetics, BIM, carbon footprint, CLT, efficiency, embodied carbon, mass timber, MWF Pro Wood, offsite construction, prefab, prefabrication, ROI, Structural, sustainable design

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In recent years, the construction industry has witnessed a shift toward the use of mass timber for multifamily projects. This trend is driven by a variety of factors, including the need for faster construction, the desire for sustainable building practices and the market’s preference for aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly living spaces. As developers navigate market challenges, the potential of mass timber and prefabrication becomes increasingly enticing.

Following are five legitimate reasons for using mass timber and prefabrication in multifamily construction.

Rapid Growth and Market Trends

According to WoodWorks, the adoption of mass timber in U.S. construction has skyrocketed, with the number of projects increasing from approximately 200 in 2018 to over 2,100 by the first quarter of 2024. This rapid growth highlights the industry’s confidence in the benefits and feasibility of mass timber. A notable example of the potential is the Ascent tower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When it was completed in 2022, the 25-story building was the tallest mass timber-and-concrete structure in the world. The project utilized building information modeling (BIM) for efficient onsite coordination and speedy construction, showcasing the way advanced technologies can complement traditional materials.

mass timber construction

Market Expansion and Government Support

The market for cross-laminated timber (CLT), a popular mass timber panel system, is expected to grow at an annual rate of nearly 30%. This surge is bolstered by U.S. Department of Agriculture investments in developing markets for innovative uses of renewable mass timber products. Additionally, building codes are evolving, with states and local municipalities adopting the mass timber provisions of the 2021 International Building Code. These changes facilitate wider acceptance and implementation of mass timber in construction projects.


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Prefabrication and Faster Construction

One of the most compelling advantages of mass timber is its suitability for prefabrication. Use cases suggest mass timber assemblies can be constructed up to 20% faster than traditional concrete and steel structures. This speed is attributed to several factors:

  • Reduced transportation and onsite requirements: Mass timber components are lighter and easier to transport, requiring smaller crews and generating less onsite waste.
  • Efficiency and coordination: Prefabricated mass timber elements can be pre-coordinated and pre-drilled for mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, reducing the number of trades workers onsite.
  • Simplified construction: The construction process is streamlined, with fewer specialized steps, making it easier to train workers and enhance overall efficiency. Prefabrication not only accelerates the construction timeline but also cuts labor costs and increases structural framing efficiency. These benefits are particularly appealing in a market where speed and cost-effectiveness are crucial.
lamplit loft living room with natural wood vaulted ceiling and darker wood paneled floor, mass timber construction

Aesthetic Appeal and Market Demand

Multi-family mass timber buildings can provide a higher return on investment because they often command higher rents due to their unique aesthetic appeal. Natural wood materials create a connection to the environment, contributing to occupant wellness and satisfaction. This appeal is amplified in markets where competition with similar buildings is limited.

Additionally, mass timber buildings can offer lower operational costs – such as utilities –  through passive house design principles. Exposed wood finishes enhance the visual and functional aspects of buildings, attracting tenants who value natural, sustainable living spaces.

Environmental and Sustainability Benefits

One primary driver behind the shift to mass timber is its environmental value proposition. Unlike steel and concrete, wood is a renewable resource with a lower carbon footprint. Mass timber construction significantly reduces the embodied carbon of buildings, aligning with global sustainability goals and appealing to environmentally conscious developers and occupants.

 

The rise of mass timber in multifamily construction is a testament to the material’s numerous advantages. From faster construction and reduced costs to higher return on investment and sustainability, mass timber offers a compelling alternative to traditional building materials. As the market continues to evolve and embrace innovative practices, mass timber is poised to play a significant role in shaping the future of the construction industry.


Learn more about sustainable innovation in construction in the eBook, “Building Resilient Communities and Protecting Our Environment for a Sustainable Future.”


 

 

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