BC building code will now allow wood buildings to be taller

Mar 14 2019, 2:03 am

The provincial government announced today new changes to the BC building code that will allow the construction of taller wood buildings of 12 storeys — up from the current allowance of six.

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This landmark change in how taller buildings can be designed comes after years of industry and government-supported research and pilot projects, namely the 174-ft-tall, 18-storey UBC Brock Commons wooden student residence building, which was completed in 2017 and was the world’s tallest wooden building at the time.

Such mass timber buildings entail a primary load-bearing structure made of either solid or engineered wood, and encapsulated mass timber is where the mass timber components are surrounded by fire-resistant materials like drywall.

To meet seismic and fire safety requirements, the bases of such taller wooden buildings are built on a concrete base, and the fire exit stairwell and elevator shafts are also made out of concrete.

2016 construction of UBC Brock Commons’ tall wood residence. (UBC Public Affairs)

According to the provincial government, mass timber buildings can be one-fifth of the weight of comparable concrete buildings, but still meet performance standards for safety, structural resilience, and fire protection.

The use of wood also has environmental benefits; for instance, the wood used in the UBC Brock Commons building was sourced from sustainably managed forests and equivalent to taking over 500 cars off the road for a year. This method also reduces construction waste, noise, and traffic to development sites.

2016 construction of UBC Brock Commons’ tall wood residence. (UBC Public Affairs)

Wood construction innovations will also help create new green construction and manufacturing jobs in the province, and it allows homes to be constructed quicker than conventional methods.

“Mass timber technology allows faster construction where large sections of a building can be manufactured in a plant and then assembled on site,” said Selina Robinson, BC Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in a statement, adding that this is a part of the provincial government’s new CleanBC goals.

“The faster we can deliver the homes that people need, the better for communities right across BC.”

2016 construction of UBC Brock Commons’ tall wood residence. (UBC Public Affairs)

The provincial government’s new policy effectively invites local and municipal governments regulated under the BC Building Code to voluntarily adopt the new policies, if they wish.

This comes ahead of the federal government’s planned 2020 update to the National Building Code, which is expected to allow mass timber construction up to 12 storeys.

“Changes to the national building code that allow for taller wood buildings take effect next year, but we’re not waiting to get started. Our government is ready to work with communities to build safe, secure and green tall wood buildings that will create jobs, grow BC’s value-added sector and realize our low-carbon future,” said Premier John Horgan.

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