Your average apartment building might be changing. I’m referring to multi-family buildings that are taller than garden-style, but not so tall as a high rise–generally five stories or 75’ in top elevation according to current codes. Wood is coming back into favor as a construction material for multi-family construction.
As one of the oldest and most economical building materials, wood has been going through a renaissance of sorts. It’s renewable, has a smaller carbon footprint, and with five-story structures, costs less.
Current codes restrict the height of wooden buildings to 75 feet, only after sprinkler and other safety features are added. A decent case can be made that combustible buildings are not inherently as safe as non-combustible buildings, and thus the fire sprinkler and other safety ratings in walls and ceilings. Beyond this, and maybe going forward, we will see chemicals to make wood less combustible. In time we may see advancements to treatments that would indeed bring wood to the forefront in high-rise structures.
Interestingly, a couple of years ago the Department of Agriculture and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council sponsored a competition regarding projects built primarily of CLT (cross laminated timber). There was an East Coast winner at 10 stories tall and a 12-story multi-purpose building in Portland.
While wood still has a ways to go, it looks like the code agencies, the government and the USGBC are exploring ways to use a wider range of products.