Pure play in mass timber: In defense of single-mindedness


July 30, 2021News

There is a lot to be said for being single-minded. At the individual level, for example, we know that multitasking doesn’t work and, that to truly excel and create high-quality work, you need to eliminate distractions and focus on a single task. This is the same in business. Companies that stick to this principle—focusing on doing one thing and doing it extremely well—are called “pure play”.

At Structurlam, we’ve built our business on a pure play model with a single focus—mass timber—woven throughout our company culture and everything else we do. As an organization, we believe that this choice, to live and breathe mass timber, allows us to not only provide our customers with the best possible service but continue to innovate how we, and others in our industry, work with this incredible material.

While our passion for mass timber is rooted in a long history of appreciation for the strength and beauty of wood, the rest of the world seems to have caught up with us—and the mass timber industry in North American is steadily growing in popularity as building codes are updated and its sustainable qualities become a greater priority for developers, architects, engineers and builders.

A movement gaining momentum

The North American industry is taking off at an unprecedented pace, and there are several reasons for that. For one thing, mass timber has become a priority for state and provincial

governments across North America—recognizing that mass timber is not only a more

sustainable building method for the construction of necessary infrastructure in which people live and work, but it is also a potential economic driver in the post-pandemic era.

Consider also that North America is in the middle of a housing crisis. According to Freddie Mac, as of the fourth quarter of 2020, the U.S. had a housing supply deficit of 3.8 million units. In Canada, meanwhile, a severe housing shortage is contributing to exponential increases in housing prices in almost every part of the country. The solution seems simple: build more places for people to live. In reality, traditional methods of construction are a big contributor to global carbon emissions, and they are pricey and time- and labor-intensive processes—but they don’t have to be.

Mass timber is increasingly seen as an alternative to concrete and steel, one that helps cut down on costs, project time and environmental impact. The latter is particularly important as it has been reported that the traditional building industry and our built environment is responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions. That number needs to decrease dramatically if countries are going to meet the climate and emissions goals they have laid out for the coming years.

Mass timber is a more sustainable building choice for two reasons. The first is that mass timber buildings are roughly 25% faster to construct than concrete buildings, requiring 90% less construction traffic and 75% fewer workers on site—reducing emissions from what could have been an extended build time. Wood is also a natural way to sequester carbon, with every cubic meter of mass timber sequestering approximately one metric ton of carbon dioxide. The fact is, mass timber buildings have the potential to not only reduce carbon emissions, but be part of a plan to bring a building close to net-zero.

The last aspect that makes mass timber particularly appealing right now, with the world in the middle of a labour shortage and grappling with a new perspective on managing workers in spaces, is that a mass timber project is prefabricated. For example, each one of Structurlam’s mass timber projects is led by one of our skillful Mass Timber Specialists who orchestrate collaboration, right from the early stages of design, between the Structurlam project design team and the customer. In our increasingly digital world, this can be done virtually or asynchronously if needed. Materials are then manufactured offsite in a controlled factory environment and delivered, according to the project timeline, in batches that are assembled efficiently and without creating excess site waste. Meaning, in addition to reducing the project timeline and overall cost, working with a mass timber partner also aids in the management of people and build sites.

We dream about mass timber

In theory, Structurlam could diversify. We could, as others have done, extend our offerings into end-to-end new-build services, construction, or renovation. Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of that to happen. Mass timber is still relatively new on the North American market but, with each new major project that goes up, it becomes less of a niche material and gets further established in the public’s consciousness.

We want to be leaders in driving that awareness, which is why mass timber is Structurlam’s sole focus and will remain so. When we go to bed at night, we dream about mass timber, and mass timber is what we think about when we wake up in the morning.

This movement is still in its early stages, and I think others in our rapidly growing sector would do well to bear in mind that true innovation requires focus—and in this case, that means living and breathing mass timber.