No timber towers happening in America as concrete industry blocks tall wood from International Building Code

Timber tower construction
© Sissi Slotover-Smutny/ Building Thistleton Waugh CLT tower in London

It's easy to scare people off wood construction; just show pictures of January's fire in New Jersey. However there is lightweight framing out of dimension lumber, which was what the Edgewater apartments were, and there is heavy timber and Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) which is a whole different thing. Heavy timber is oversized so that in a fire it will char, which essentially fireproofs it.

Instead, the concrete industry went to the International Code Council hearings and "helped defeat a proposal allowing wood-framed structures up to nine stories—four higher than the 2015 International Building Code permits for such construction." According to Concrete Products,

NRMCA Vice President, Sustainability [!!!] Tien Peng, along with Portland Cement Association and Masonry Alliance for Codes & Standards representatives, offered testimony resulting in preliminary 2018 IBC language not allowing the nine-story threshold for Type IV (heavy timber) construction; firewalls constructed with gypsum board-enclosed, cross-laminated timber; combustible-material substitutes for Type III construction (noncombustible exterior walls); and, exclusion of occupied roofs as a story, among others.

So a Vice President of Sustainability basically scuppers a more sustainable form of construction that has been demonstrated to be perfectly safe. Instead, we make more cement and dig up more aggregate, while the rest of the world is building higher, faster and greener buildings out of our most renewable building resource. Sigh.

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