Wood highrises to shoot up thanks to new building codes

George Brown College

Tall towers have defined cities as “jungles” of concrete and glass. But what if we built highrises out of wood instead?

Proponents say that could have two benefits:

    • The wood stores carbon for the lifetime of the building, which (temporarily) prevents it from entering the atmosphere.
    • It would reduce emissions linked to steel and cement production. The latter is the second-largest industrial emitter in the world, after the fossil fuel industry, generating seven per cent of global emissions.

A five-storey residential building built with wood can store up to 180 kilograms of carbon per square metre — three times more than a high-density forest with the same footprint, according to a new study from U.S. and German researchers.

Right now, just 0.5 per cent of new buildings are constructed with timber. But if we pushed that up to 10 per cent, those buildings could store 10 million tonnes of carbon per year. And if 50 per cent of buildings were built with wood, they could store up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year, the researchers estimate.

Not only that, but building with timber would cut emissions from steel and cement manufacturing by half.

So why haven’t we been doing it?

One problem is that the most common wood product used in modern construction until now — the two-by-four — doesn’t have the strength or versatility needed for constructing tall buildings, said Anne Koven, director of the Mass Timber Institute, which is based at the University of Toronto.

But in the 1990s, researchers in Austria and Germany invented cross-laminated timber (CLT), which uses adhesives to bind smaller pieces of wood into sturdy, fire-resistant panels and beams. “It’s an engineered wood product for building on the scale of cement and steel,” Koven said.

Designers, engineers and architects, including Russell Acton of Acton Ostry Architects in Vancouver, saw that and similar new products as an opportunity. “It was kind of like, now that we have engineered wood and we have an environmental interest, why not explore mass timber to get it back in use?” Acton said.

There was also another barrier: the maximum height for most wood buildings allowed by building codes in Canada was six storeys. Until now.

Acton and his team got a special exemption to build Brock Commons Tallwood House, an 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia and the tallest wood building in the world when it opened in 2017.

Since then, some provinces — most recently Alberta — have changed their building codes to allow highrises of up to 12 storeys. When it’s revised later this year, the federal building code will also allow that height.

Across Canada, there are plans to build more wood highrises, from 12-storey condo projects in Victoria and Esquimalt on Vancouver Island to 30-storey wood towers in Toronto proposed by Google as part of its Sidewalk Labs development.

Acton’s firm is working on the Arbour, a 10-storey building slated for George Brown College in downtown Toronto (see photo above).

Despite the budding interest, Acton warns that builders haven’t yet worked out the “most economical” configurations for towers made of wood. For example, Brock Commons in Vancouver cost about seven per cent more than a similar building of steel and concrete.

“Everybody’s doing it for the first time,” Acton said. “It’s in its infancy.” SOURCE

How to Cost-Effectively Withstand the Next Polar Vortex

Image result for How to Cost-Effectively Withstand the Next Polar Vortex

he 2019 polar vortex has passed, leaving behind many harrowing stories in its wake. The new Cold Climates Addendum of Rocky Mountain Institute’s Economics of Zero Energy Homes report illuminates how our homes can be better prepared for weather extremes cost-effectively, even in some of the coldest climates in the United States.

The average US home leaks so much cold air that at roughly 20 mile-per-hour winds, all of the air inside a home will be replaced every 6 to 10 minutes. This can lead to dangerous indoor conditions when outside air is coming in at -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Some cities still utilize older energy codes that don’t require significantly better performance (or have no energy codes at all), meaning that many homes built today will continue to be challenged by extreme weather events like the polar vortex over their lifetime.

The good news is that our recent research shows that highly efficient homes capable of surviving extreme weather conditions can be built cost-effectively for only a small amount more than standard construction, even in cold climates.

The first step in having a home that can deal with extreme temperature is to eliminate drafts and improve insulation. These measures are especially cost-effective for new homes. Lloyd Alter’s article “Lessons from the Polar Vortex” provides some examples of the benefits just from an improved envelope to provide extreme weather resilience.

Homes can be made even more resilient with a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, which, with the right equipment, can provide enough power to meet emergency electrical needs through extreme weather events even when electric grid power is temporarily lost. The more energy efficient the home is, the smaller the PV system required to keep it operating. Finally, for a truly resilient home, battery systems can be used to store solar power and keep those systems working even when the sun stops shining. MORE

Canadians act now’ on climate change: federal report


Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai

Canadian governments urgently need to collect and publish data showing how safe their citizens are from floods, fires and other hazards related to climate change, a federal advisory panel is recommending.

In a report released Tuesday, the panel says basic information such as the percentage of poor Canadians who are living in high-risk areas, or the readiness of infrastructure for the change in temperatures and rainfall, are inconsistent or simply not kept.

Panelists say 54 key indicators should be put in place by governments.

“It’s essential that Canadians act now to adapt and build their resilience to climate change,” the panel’s report says. “Climate change impacts occurring across the country pose significant risks to Canadians’ health, safety and well being.” MORE

How to Keep your #ClimateHope Tanks Full

How To Keep Your #ClimateHope Tanks Full, Below2C

The tide of public opinion about the urgency of climate action is turning. And once it crosses that tipping point, it isn’t going back. We are close to that historic moment.

The promise of youth striking from school around the globe under the banner of #FridaysForFuture, combined with the groundswell of ordinary citizens flocking to the Extinction Rebellion movement, is causing consternation to world leaders who are failing to deal adequately with the world climate emergency before us.

My recent piece on #climatehope for 2019 is followed by this blog post resourced from the Climate Reality Project.  MORE

Related:

What gives me Climate Hope for 2019