“We have created good demand locally and of course there’s a demand internationally and in North America. But now we have to create capacity. so we are investing to make sure that we have enough facilities to actually build mass timber,” said Brar.  

Mass timber is rapidly growing not just in our province, but the entire world. According to the Government of B.C.’s website, “the global engineered-wood market (of which mass timber is a part) is expected to grow by 40% from 2019 to 2027 (from $285 billion in 2019 to $400 billion by 2027).” Locally, mass timber is expected to be a $400 million industry, of which Prince George will be a key contributor and beneficiary. While mass timber construction around the world was discussed during the Design Centre tour, Brar added provincially we have seen sharp growth, as at this moment the province has either built or is currently building 420 mass timber buildings, 370 of which were last year.

“Mass timber can address the climate change and housing crisis and also create good jobs, well-paying jobs moving forward for the people of British Columbia and people of Prince George,” said Brar.

As for how safe and reliable mass timber is as a building material, UNBC Associate Professor of Wood Engineering Jianhui Zhou says it can be equally as good as concrete and steel, or in some cases, even better. While it may seem counterintuitive, mass timber can actually be more fire safe than steel, as steel can heat up very quickly, while mass timber can be harder to burn due to its size.

“We can expose the wood which will increase the cross-section, and then the burning of wood is predictable. And then when it chars it can actually protect the building from burning and also from collapsing,” said Zhou. He went on to explain that charred wood doesn’t carry fire, so even if the surface of mass timber gets charred it doesn’t cause severe structural damage.

As for material strength, wood of course isn’t as strong as concrete or steel, but wood can be as strong as the others because building strength is about more than just material strength, it’s how it works when you consider the environment and all aspects of the building For example, wood’s strength to density ratio is better than steel, which means it can actually handle extreme stresses better than steel, like an earthquake or violent shifts. Also, there may be cases where a building would use a hollow steel beam, but you could just use a solid mass timber beam instead and structurally it can bear the same weight.

While it’s highly expected that Prince George will be a major player in the mass timber industry, Brar said for now it’s still too early to say when our community will see more mass timber facilities, or how many we will see.

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