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Build with Mass Timber, Save the Planet

It seems counterintuitive to say that building with mass timber is environmentally friendly, right? After all, timber implies cutting down trees and that must be bad... turns out, that is incorrect.

Look at all of that carbon sequestration. Photo cred: foresthistory.org

So what is mass timber anyways? Mass timber is prefabricated using smaller pieces of wood that are glued or screwed together. Compared with heavy timber, that requires finding a tree the size of the beam needed, mass timber allows for the construction of large span pieces from smaller trees that can replace the need for steel and concrete.

Consider the concepts of embodied carbon versus operational carbon: embodied carbon is the carbon created in the construction of the building. Operational carbon is the carbon created to run the building once it is built. It actually takes 17 years for operational carbon to catch up to the output of embodied carbon. In other words, the construction of a new building is highly energy-inefficient and if the materials and process used to create the building can leave a smaller carbon footprint, we are way ahead of the game.

T3 RiNo by Hines. Photo cred: Costar Group

Three main benefits to building with mass timber stand out among the rest: 

  1. Timber construction is less energy-intensive than building with concrete and steel. Steel and concrete are made from non-renewal resources and are highly energy-intensive to make.
  2. As long as the tree is turned into lumber once it dies - rather than decomposing - the timber stores the carbon forever. And 40% of a tree's mass is carbon that has been sequestered throughout the tree's life!
  3. Trees are a renewal resource because more can always be planted. In fact, global net tree growth has steadily outpaced deforestation since 1952.

Houston-based Hines has been an early adopter of mass timber construction and they are currently building a six-story mass timber office project in RiNo. Check it out here. Meanwhile, California has approved the construction of mass timber buildings up to 18 stories this month. Stay tuned for more as REC's developer clients explore building their own mass timber projects around Colorado in the coming years.

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Build with Mass Timber, Save the Planet

It seems counterintuitive to say that building with mass timber is environmentally friendly, right? After all, timber implies cutting down trees and that must be bad... turns out, that is incorrect.

Look at all of that carbon sequestration. Photo cred: foresthistory.org

So what is mass timber anyways? Mass timber is prefabricated using smaller pieces of wood that are glued or screwed together. Compared with heavy timber, that requires finding a tree the size of the beam needed, mass timber allows for the construction of large span pieces from smaller trees that can replace the need for steel and concrete.

Consider the concepts of embodied carbon versus operational carbon: embodied carbon is the carbon created in the construction of the building. Operational carbon is the carbon created to run the building once it is built. It actually takes 17 years for operational carbon to catch up to the output of embodied carbon. In other words, the construction of a new building is highly energy-inefficient and if the materials and process used to create the building can leave a smaller carbon footprint, we are way ahead of the game.

T3 RiNo by Hines. Photo cred: Costar Group

Three main benefits to building with mass timber stand out among the rest: 

  1. Timber construction is less energy-intensive than building with concrete and steel. Steel and concrete are made from non-renewal resources and are highly energy-intensive to make.
  2. As long as the tree is turned into lumber once it dies - rather than decomposing - the timber stores the carbon forever. And 40% of a tree's mass is carbon that has been sequestered throughout the tree's life!
  3. Trees are a renewal resource because more can always be planted. In fact, global net tree growth has steadily outpaced deforestation since 1952.

Houston-based Hines has been an early adopter of mass timber construction and they are currently building a six-story mass timber office project in RiNo. Check it out here. Meanwhile, California has approved the construction of mass timber buildings up to 18 stories this month. Stay tuned for more as REC's developer clients explore building their own mass timber projects around Colorado in the coming years.

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