For many groups previously involved in the industry this is everything we could hope for and more. Finally getting to play with the big teams in construction and show them what we can really do. Seeing our value being incorporated into the folds of society. The current Tallest Mass Timber building in the world, UBC Brock Commons demonstrated not only how Mass Timber can be smarter, but also how it can be produced costs effectively and pair with modern manufacturing techniques. Since that point the flood gates have opening and many design and construction teams are considering joining in on this bright future. However, this key turning point doesn't come without concerns or uncertainty of where the future may take us.
FIBRE SUPPLY FOR MASS TIMBER
I am getting side tracked here, but the point I am slowly digging at is that as we value forest ecology further as both a wild land and sustainable crop for harvest we will hopefully see better utilization of fibre and longer lasting products of intrinsic wealth being built out of them. The average lifespan of a single family dwelling in the US is 40 years! That is absolutely pathetic. However, with Mass Timber buildings being created my hopes are that this higher value, massive product will have more thought put into it, and withstand the tests of time better, aiming for 200 year or why not 400 year lifespans? If this does become the new norm, we can expect that fibre supply, in the long distant term will level out to a sustainable development rate.
Looking at the 18 story UBC Brock Commons project, it used roughly 2000 m^3 of CLT and 220 m^3 of glulam. This roughly amounts to 15,000 trees, and all of this lumber took Canadian forests roughly 5 mins to grow. In another lens this would require 3 - 4 acres of land set aside for 40 years to grow enough timber to house 404 students. To me, that comes out as a sustainable practice, that signals long term for thought and intensity of purpose.
VIDEO LINK TO UBC BROCK COMMONS
Ok, enough dreaming and wishy washy talk. What problems are we faced with today?
Well for one, fibre prices have gone through the roof in North America over the last year. A trade war on Softwood lumber between Canada and the US has jacked up prices, large natural disasters and hurricanes have increased demand on framing lumber and record breaking forest fires have limited supply. Are these prices here to stay? More importantly, do these prices allow Mass Timber to be an economical competitor with steel or concrete alternatives?
These prices are most likely not here to stay, historically we have seen a range of fibre surges, however they have always returned to a normal baseline. As for current prices being economically competitive with other forms of construction I have seen many examples of projects that still pass the sniff test to be produced in Mass Timber, however there is something to be said for fibre optimization and conservation of resources.
Europe has currently remained relatively within its own fibre costs bubble, however the demands of the US housing market will slowly reach their shores and we will see upticks in the costs of fibre across the board. Next spring we will likely see lumber prices come back down to reality, however we are currently riding a record breaking high, so what will the new reality set at, and will Mass Timber still be seen as an economically logical means of construction?
I believe the Timber Revolution will make it through these challenges, and maybe these are the break pads necessary to ensure we stay within the bounds of logic and sustainability. How do you see fibre supply determining the future of Mass Timber?
PS. Look forward to hearing more about some of these large scale revolutionary projects that have entered the Mass Timber landscape signalling mainstream acceptance.