B.C. Builders Reconsider the Use of Mass Timber in Construction as Prices Surge Higher

In the current building environment, construction using mass timber remains a viable option and checks several boxes, including environmental, economic, and human resource factors, that challenge builder productivity daily. However, the unpredictable costs associated with mass timber construction, which includes supply chain and logistics issues, has made it a difficult scheme for many builders to embrace.

Zack Ross is president of the Cape Group, a developer based in Vancouver. Discussing the current building environment, Ross said, “We’re in conversation with our suppliers, all the way down the supply chain. It’s really important to have some kind of cost certainty.”

“One of the biggest challenges when it comes to mass timber construction is logistics,” Ross added. “If you don’t have a logistics network set up to actually get the product from the facility to the actual building site, there’s just no reason to do it. It doesn’t become economic; it doesn’t become feasible or practical.”

Peter Moonen, sustainability coordinator with the Canadian Wood Council, sees it differently. Moonen points out that “The annual growth in productivity for the construction sector post-World War Two is 0.1 per cent per year. Mass timber will play a role in enabling the construction sector to have industrialized production because of the ability to machine this material to very high tolerances, which makes both assembly and performance improve and it can also address the trade shortages.”

Moonen concedes that builder concerns are real, and mass timber manufacturers are working to address the cost issues. “The fluctuation in wood has been bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in the last 30 years,” he said. “It poses a real challenge for anybody who’s planning a project two, three years down the road.”

To address cost uncertainties, mass timber manufacturers are working with wood suppliers to develop long-term contracts. While mass timber products use raw wood that isn’t suitable for structural uses, growing demand has put a premium even on these supplies.

“Increasingly we are having mass timber producers and glulam producers establish long-term supply agreements with sources of wood, and that’s in the best interests of both,” Moonen said.

Moonen said the global demand for CLT (cross-laminated timber) is anticipated to reach upwards of 3 million cubic meters by 2025. “If the entire global CLT sector were to get their wood supply only from B.C., it would amount to about 15% of one of B.C.’s annual harvests,” he said.


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Builders think twice about adopting mass timber as prices surge