Building code changes in the US mark significant progress for the mass timber industry

February 5, 2019News

By Hardy Wentzel, CEO of Structurlam

On December 19, 2018, it was announced that all 14 mass timber code change proposals put forward at an International Code Council (ICC) public comment hearing in Richmond, Virginia are expected to be approved. The approved proposals will be added to the 2021 International Building Code (IBC), which is slated for release in late 2020, along with the full set of 2021 I-codes.

Together, the 14 proposals will create three new types of construction, all of which have had their fire and safety performances verified:

  • Type IV A: up to 18 storeys high (270 feet tall) – mass timber is fully protected with noncombustible materials
  • Type IV B: up to 12 storeys high (180 feet tall) – the allowable amount of exposed mass timber elements is limited
  • Type IV C: up to 9 storeys high (85 feet tall) – mass timber is allowed to be unprotected

The code development cycle will continue throughout 2019, as well as any considerations for additional structural requirements for tall mass timber buildings.

The public hearing in Virginia follows in the state of Oregon’s footsteps – as of August 2018, Oregon became the first US state to permit the construction of mass timber buildings exceeding six storeys. The new Oregon building codes also classify mass timber according to the three categories mentioned above.

Meanwhile in the state of Washington, proposal changes to the ICC Tall Wood Buildings Code were unanimously passed on November 30. The state’s approved code changes permit the construction of mass timber buildings of up to 18 storeys, will be added to the International Building Code (IBC), and will go into effect in Q2 of 2019. With that said, local jurisdictions are not mandated to adopt the changes and can opt out if they prefer.

The team and I at Structurlam are thrilled by the recent announcements, and the exciting industry developments that will follow in 2019. In a recent report, Forests2Market predicts that investment and commercial interest in cross-laminated timber (CLT), and engineered wood products alike, will continue to grow – a statement backed by the recent approval of the Farm Bill in December 2018, which through the Timber Innovation Act, will incentivize further investment and R&D into CLT and other wood products.

The United States construction industry has been slower to embrace mass timber buildings compared to its Canadian and European counterparts, primarily due to more complex code restrictions. But over the past few months, several events – like the approved building code changes observed in Oregon and Washington – mark tremendous progress for the United States’ mass timber industry and has promising implications for the years to come.

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