I recently attended the Wood Solutions fair sponsored by Woodworks.org. It was really good; I wood go again. Cheesy as it may sound, I was really excited about the free seminars… and complimentary lunch. Judging by the number of attendees, I apparently wasn’t the only one enthusiastic to learn about the latest in wood design. The crowd was approximately 50/50 engineers and architects. This also made the event a nice networking opportunity.
The first session that I attended was presented by a representative from Woodworks, an organization sponsored by a conglomeration of wood industry to promote the use of wood as a construction material for multi-family and commercial buildings. The presenter set the stage nicely for the rest of the day by providing an overview of the many new structural wood products now available. This introduction was necessary in order to decode all the acronyms used by the industry, like LVLs – Laminated Veneer Lumber, CLT – Cross Laminated Timber, SIPs – Structural Insulated Panels.
Wood composites, like LVLs and PSLs, aren’t necessary new technologies, but I did learn how similar products have been improved in order to take very heavy loads. Greater load resistance is achieved by using adhesives to create a composite of smaller, high-strength wood strips. I attended one session that profiled several projects in which retail podiums, typically constructed from concrete, were built instead with wood. High performance wood composites were essential to transfer the heavy loads from the residential towers above.
Cross Laminated Timber seems like such an obvious idea that you’ll wonder why it took so long to catch on. These are structural wood panels that can be used for walls, flooring, or roofing. The panels are constructed by joining multiple layers of 1x or 2x boards together in alternating directions. The result is a structural panel that spans two ways, similar to concrete, and can be erected with a crane, very similar to precast concrete. To date, only a couple of CLT buildings have been constructed in the States, but it is growing in popularity in Canada and is widely used in Europe. Builders love the speed at which such CLT buildings can be constructed. One speaker described how a small urban commercial building was erected in less than one week.
Structural Insulated Panels combine the structural qualities of wood with the thermal performance of insulation. These products are at the forefront of energy performance and sustainable design. One speaker even discussed how an organic straw-based insulation could be used in the wood sandwich. The keys to effectively using SIPs include careful installation and proper sealing. If installed properly, SIPs can even achieve the nearly “hermetically sealed” airflow requirements specified by the Passive Haus Institute. However, failure to take due care during erection can result in moisture accumulation within the sandwich. That’s another reason why the solid CLT construction has growing appeal.
I left with the realization that the wood industry now offers many innovative products that make it a competitive design choice for all types of buildings. Wood has many construction advantages including ready availability, contractor familiarity, and quick erection. The renewable nature of the material is also desirable from a sustainability standpoint. I hope to have to opportunity to work with the architects in attendance to construct more wood structures.