Mass Timber Code Changes and Early Adoption Strategies

Georgios Anagnostou
Senior Associate
Jackson Teece, Sydney

Buildings made of steel and concrete have dominated city skylines around the world for many years. However, a recent surge in mass timber is beginning to change the construction landscape of many cities around the world. Several pioneering mass timber structures have helped pave the way for the use of timber on a large scale. As a result, recently approved changes to the 2021 International Building Code contain new heavy timber construction types. These construction types will soon allow for much larger mass timber buildings than current editions of the code permit.

The new heavy timber construction classifications capitalize on the growing number of mass timber assemblies that have passed fire-resistive testing. As a result, mass timber elements have been proven to provide equivalent fire resistance to the steel and concrete components traditionally found in tall buildings. Subsequently, mass timber buildings will soon be afforded similar building height allowances as their steel and concrete counterparts.

The use of mass timber on a large scale holds the promise for significant reductions in both the labor and time needed to construct tall buildings. Mass timber also has the added benefit of being a sustainable natural resource. Although the full text of the 2021 International Building Code is yet to be published, these benefits can be harnessed on current and future projects in advance of the formal adoption of the new code provisions. As a result, it is important for owners, designers, contractors, and code enforcement officials to understand the implications of these new heavy timber construction types, and the potential early adoption strategies that can be pursued in jurisdictions using previous versions of the International Building Code.

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