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Fire Resistant, Quake Safe, Climate Friendly: Mass Timber Is on the Rise

Though wood has been a building materials for as long as time, over the 20th century, concrete and steel have dominated as choice materials for buildings as they became massive and soared upwards. However, now wood is being engineered into products with enough strength and fire resistance to create the backbone of tall structures.

Sixty-nine mass timber projects were built in the United States in 2013, and according to Bloomberg, that number spiked to 755 last year.

According to GeekWire, Europe has been building with mass timber for the past couple of decades, but winning support in the U.S. has been challenging.

There’s a learning curve for builders and contractors to develop the skills needed for building with the material, which can add time and costs to a project. Domestic manufacturers only recently began selling mass timber products. There are still some code restrictions and permitting might take longer. The materials often cost more.

And at least historically, builders and permitters worried about mass timber’s performance, with fire safety at the top of the list. To gain approval for the new building codes, Jones served on a committee tackling fire resistance issues. At a national fire research lab, the group tried five times to burn down full-scale, two-story mass timber buildings.

“It didn’t work,” Jones said. “Four hours of fires. No sprinkler intervention. No fire department intervention. Really amazing.”

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