The construction industry continues to evolve as new materials are used to improve the longevity and strength of structures. Additionally, the constant push to increase productivity drives innovation and enables introduction of new ways to resolve skilled labor shortages, along with incorporating efficient materials for modularizing and fabricating structures off-site. This trend has given rise to modular and prefabricated solutions. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a key contributor to modular panels. The benefits of CLT panels are:
- Faster on-site assembly
- Higher quality construction
- More standardized building
The recent advances in building materials increase the number of components mass produced and brought to construction sites. This results in buildings being erected more quickly and quietly with far less waste. Another driving factor relates to reducing environmental impact of new construction. Beyond energy efficient new construction, a focus on zero carbon emissions allowed the growth of CLT for large construction design. This goes beyond the materials once they are on-site. It includes the efficient manufacturing of modular panels. One example is the Carbon 12 project. At 85-feet tall, it is the tallest CLT building in the United States (as of January 2020). The popularity will continue to grow as CLT manufacturers are able to provide a natural and innovative alternative to steel and concrete. Cost-effective and renewable, mass timber construction is becoming a popular platform for owners, architects, engineers and builders.
Evaluating Building Material Options
Building materials continue to evolve to meet ever-changing demands from regulators, owners and consumers. Reducing environmental impact while keeping people safe is the goal. Each material – wood, steel and concrete – have advantages and unique characteristics. While concrete and steel have historically been viewed as the most robust and durable materials, CLT brings new options to designers, contractors and owners. Substantial benefits of CLT use include the following:
- Offers high strength, structural simplicity and a lighter environmental footprint than concrete or steel in construction – CLT is carbon negative and uses wood exclusively from sustainably managed forests
- Enables quicker installation, reduces waste and improves thermal performance for buildings
- Adapts to the project demands – thickness and length can be adjusted, as well on-site construction duration is a few days versus weeks and months with concrete and steel construction
- Generates very little waste – CLT components are shipped for just-in-time scheduling and arrive on-site as a kit, which results in minimal storage requirements
Given the variety of CLT dimensions, it offers flexible design options. The key is the adhesive and how it bonds with the wood panels to produce prefabricated elements. The adhesive also contributes to the structural performance to deliver compressive strength similar to concrete. As the industry continues to adopt CLT, owners want to understand more about the performance and protection it provides to large structures.