By: Jane Marsh, Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co.
Timber has a long history in the building industry as reliable and accessible. Certain engineering innovations have even made it a potential competitor to concrete and steel. Still, many professionals in the sector are hesitant to embrace it. While it is a versatile material with many benefits, will its drawbacks prevent the industry from utilizing it?
What Is the State of Timber Construction?
Professionals from every corner of the building industry gathered at the International Mass
Timber Conference in March. Dozens of presenters spoke at length about the rising trends and upcoming opportunities in the sector. The organizers’ 2023 report provided some of the most comprehensive and significant information, highlighting how obstacles impede timber’s potential. For instance, they noted how it costs up to 15% more than traditional construction materials. Additionally, they recognized the hesitancy of widespread adoption.
While the event focused on positive progression and possible engineering advances, the
various hindrances somewhat overshadowed it. Timber is versatile and reliable, yet it often is
not the first choice in many projects — many in the building industry are embracing other
What Are the Pros of Embracing Timber?
Timber has been a staple in the building industry for ages. Since it is such a popular material,
many construction companies have grown familiar with it and adapted their methods around it. As such, they have all but perfected certain features.
There are many positives to embracing timber in the building industry:
● Accessible: Since timber is a renewable resource, workers can utilize obsolete
structures in upcoming projects. Reuse results in 18% faster construction and 16% more
savings than new material use.
● Affordable: Conventional timber is widely available, making it incredibly affordable to
build with. The industry has also developed specific machinery for it, increasing
productivity and reducing labor costs.
● Versatile: Timber generally results in increased material savings due. For instance,
construction projects with wood frames generate roughly 40% less material waste than
concrete or steel.
● Popular: The development of cross-laminated timber (CLT) has driven new interest in
the material. It is becoming more popular than steel or concrete in the United States due
to its strength.
● Fire-resistant: Wood generally burns quickly, but engineering advancements address
this issue. For instance, while CLT is not fireproof, its insulation reaction during heat
exposure is exceptional at preventing flames from spreading.
● Sustainable: Overall, timber is a sustainable material. In the building industry, it
produces fewer carbon emissions than concrete, steel or other conventional construction
● Fast: Besides many professionals being familiar with timber, it is lightweight and
versatile. As a result, projects generally move much quicker.
Many companies are familiar with the material, but variants like CLT remain less popular. Many
professionals hesitate to adopt them because they are less time-tested than the conventional
kind. Additionally, new technology has driven the building industry to explore trends like
concrete or three-dimensional printing instead.
Embracing timber could be incredibly beneficial for the sector.
A wide range of construction equipment exists specifically for it, professionals are familiar with it and it supports a healthy environment. Expanding on current methods to adapt to engineering advancements would be straightforward, affordable and low-risk.
What Are the Cons of Embracing Timber?
While there are many potential benefits of embracing timber in the building industry, certain
drawbacks exist — even individuals at the international conference recognized its possible
There are drawbacks to embracing timber in the building industry:
● Ecological damage: Although wood is generally sustainable, irresponsible harvesting
practices cause environmental damage. According to one survey on timber, respondents
stated deforestation was the most significant disadvantage of using it in construction.
● Lack of familiarity: One study of the Canadian building industry found that less than
10% of respondents had worked with CLT extensively, with around 42% having yet to
learn the material even existed.
● Increased workload: Some kinds of timber require additional attention, increasing
workloads. For instance, project managers must coordinate around the lack of holes for
electrical or plumbing installation in CLT walls.
● Susceptibility to moisture: A moisture content of 20% makes CLT incredibly
susceptible to mold growth, with significant potential for structural damage if it increases
by only five percentage points.
● Expensive: While traditional timber typically carries a reasonable price, popular variants
like CLT can be much more costly.
While timber is an incredibly versatile material with many benefits, there is no denying its
widespread use in the building industry has potential obstacles. The sourcing and construction processes alone would be challenging, considering how it requires multiple adjustments to traditional methods.
The material may also not be ideal in all situations. For instance, durable variants like CLT are
expensive to source and can be challenging to maintain in certain humid climates.
Additionally, poor behavior can easily overshadow some of its positive aspects. For example,
irresponsible harvesting methods could make it less environmentally friendly. While woodcutters can typically work around this, it could pose ecological issues if the entire industry suddenly adopted it.
Can the Industry Address Concerns?
How can the building industry address the drawbacks of embracing timber? Although
widespread timber adoption could cause significant issues, it is possible to mitigate most of
For instance, consider the potential for careless harvesting practices to cause ecological
destruction — the building industry could establish regulations or increase oversight to prevent this. Responsible forestry practices can even repair environmental damage over time.
Additionally, most other drawbacks will likely minimize with time. The lack of familiarity with CLT will disappear once more companies use it. Plus, manufacturers will meet the need for
specialized equipment in response to increased demand. Over time, the sector will likely be able to address various concerns.
Does Timber Have Potential?
Change typically brings about uncertainty, which is never ideal in a sector reliant on stability.
Still, embracing advancements is necessary for continuous success. The building industry can
only move past timber’s drawbacks if it familiarizes itself with the material and finds solutions.
Many organizations have already moved to embrace it. For instance, the International Code
Council released an update in 2021 to reduce mass timber use restrictions in multistory
buildings. While concrete and steel are still the most popular picks for high-rises, this change
opened the door for adaptation.
Although there likely will not be a sudden increase in timber use in the building industry, there is potential for widespread adoption. As more companies familiarize themselves with it and find workarounds to its drawbacks, others will feel encouraged to join in.
The Result of Embracing Timber
Timber is a reliable and versatile material, so the building industry could benefit from using it
extensively — as long as it simultaneously addresses the drawbacks. Various innovations have even made it a competitor to concrete, expanding the potential construction possibilities. Ultimately, embracing it could result in a lighter workload and a healthier environment.