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Mass Timber Construction Opportunities In Canada – Construction & Planning

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The demand for sustainable, lower-carbon solutions in the
construction industry is creating new opportunities for the use of
mass timber in Canada. Building code regulations are changing to
allow for taller wood structures. Hundreds of new projects are
planned or underway in British Columbia and Ontario.

As an example, at the provincial and municipal levels, British
Columbia is aiming to supply more wood and make more value-added
wood products available in the province. British Columbia currently
has more mass timber buildings per capita than anywhere else in
North America. In addition, in April 2022, the City of Toronto
announced a new mass timber pilot program for affordable rental
housing, using wood products that must be certified by the Forest
Stewardship Council (FSC) or CaGBC-approved equivalent.

These developments are exciting. However, there are some
important things for developers to consider when looking at a mass
timber project, particularly:

  • the approval process;

  • product supply and trade issues;

  • contractor experience and insurance; and

  • environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits.

Approval Process

The approval process for mass timber buildings is not as certain
as other projects. Mass timber construction is still relatively new
in Canada and the regulatory system is evolving with it. Developers
should consider the potential for uncertainty and delays and
address this risk in their project scoping and scheduling

We note there are a number of positive developments. The new
National Building Code of Canada was released on March 28, 2022.
One of the highlights is the inclusion of encapsulated mass timber
construction to allow for wood buildings up to 12 storeys tall.
British Columbia was the first Canadian province to amend its
Building Code to permit the construction of tall wood buildings up
to 12 storeys. In Ontario, the Building Code was updated in 2015 to
allow wood frame buildings up to six stories, with a change similar
to British Columbia’s proposed for the next edition of
Ontario’s Building Code. A 10 storey institutional building for
George Brown College is already under construction in Toronto.

British Columbia launched its Mass Timber Action Plan in April
2022 as a roadmap to grow the industry. As part of the plan, the
provincial government says it will work closely with industry and
researchers to identify and overcome regulatory barriers.

Product Supply and Trade Issues

The supply of mass timber products (e.g., cross-laminated
timber) is critical to a project’s success. Mass timber
products typically makes up a large percentage of overall project
material costs. The source can affect cost, schedules and overall
ESG aspects of a building.

It is very important to know if the product is sourced in Canada
or overseas, as trade issue risk should be assessed for any
project. Tariffs and supply chain disruptions may be concerns if
the products do not come from Canada. Contractually, as the product
is so critical to the project, we typically see developers
designate the product source/supplier in a construction (CCDC)
contract to avoid issues.

Contractor Experience and Insurance

Using mass timber is very different from concrete-and-steel
construction. Developers should seek professionals, builders and
trades who have experience with mass timber buildings and a
well-developed plan to complete the project. The construction
contract should contain sufficient covenants to confirm such
experience. Consideration should also be given to including
provisions mandating the use of certain product suppliers (see
above). A review of standard warranty provisions to confirm
appropriate for the specific products used should also be

The insurance requirements for mass timber projects and the
timing to place such insurance should be confirmed and priced in
advance to avoid delays and cost surprises.

ESG Benefits

The ESG benefits of mass timber buildings add to their appeal
for developers and governments. Wood is a natural and renewable
building material, it can be grown sustainably and is a
lower-carbon form of construction. Mass timber can match or exceed
the structural performance of concrete-and-steel while reducing
carbon emissions by as much as 45 percent.

Developers must plan for the entire life cycle of a mass timber
building to realize all of the low-carbon benefits. Wood that ends
up in a landfill will release its carbon back into the atmosphere,
so planning for the reuse of building materials or using capsulated
wood products is a necessary step.

ESG benefits are much more than environmental. First, B.C.’s
Action Plan supports reconciliation by co-creating tangible
economic and social opportunities for Indigenous people in the mass
timber economy. Second, developers may be able to generate carbon
offset credits under B.C.’s Offset Protocol. This policy is
still under development, however, and the B.C. government intends
to release a finished protocol this year.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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