Why say no to tall wood buildings?

Sandy springs, a suburb of Atlanta, recently changed its building regulations to prohibit the construction of wood buildings higher than 3 stories and over 100,000 square feet. The ruling attracted national attention as wood industry advocates were present to voice their opposition to the move.

Why the ban

Why the ban? The code change states: “a requirement for construction with enhanced quality materials that increase the durability and longevity of the buildings” to “preserve the safety of persons inhabiting buildings above a certain height”

It seems that technical advancements in wood construction aren’t enough for this community. It’s also a clear indication that wood construction on a large scale, is disruptive.

Advances in wood construction technology

That’s how quickly things are moving in the wood industry. Thanks in part to advances in Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), wood construction of large buildings can be cheaper, faster and of much lower environmental impact than steel or concrete. Wood construction also offers great flexibility in design.  CLT can be as strong as steel or concrete, allowing the construction of 9 and 10 story wood buildings. Much higher buildings have also been approved (up to 34-story).

Many communities across the country already accept 5-story wood construction.

A one-off ruling

Capture d’écran 2016-08-31 à 2.18.23 PMGetting back to Sandy Springs, you have to consider another detail that lead to the change in code. According to one reporter the mayor of Sandy Springs has said that using higher cost steel or masonry buildings could help discourage infill apartment housing in the city’s single family neighborhoods. It is possible that the town council is using the ban on wood construction as a way to fix a zoning issue?

The mayor also mentioned safety. It’s important to remember that wood construction technology respects current safety codes. It always will. In such buildings, sprinkler systems are mandatory for example. The wood itself has to meet certain safety requirements also.

Don’t discount the enormous advantages of wood construction based on this one-off municipal ruling. Wood construction has a great future in store.

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