Canada’s Alberta to adopt 12-storey wood building standard

During its Red Tape Reduction Awareness Week, Alberta announced it will become the first province to allow 12-storey wood construction in all its jurisdictions.

“It is a tremendous step forward for Alberta,” said Rory Koska, director of Wood WORKS! Alberta. “When I first started, we could do nine meters in wood frame and now it is up to 12 storeys. With innovation, technology and wood systems it’s an exciting time for architecture in Alberta. We are going to see these beautiful buildings going up. I think it will change the architectural landscape.”

Alberta officials stated that they will issue a notice – based on technical provisions developed for the next edition of the National Building Code – to allow early use of tall wood or mass timber construction for up to 12 storeys using fire-resistant material in time for the upcoming construction season.

While other jurisdictions in Canada, like British Columbia, also currently allow for 12-storey wood construction, it is up to cities to decide to adopt it or not.

“Not only will this decision support the forestry industry and land developers, it will provide affordability to homebuyers, bolster employment, and give Alberta a competitive advantage,” said Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs, in a statement. “We made this change knowing that mass timber products are safe and that these buildings will meet all necessary standards.”

Current Alberta and national building codes allow wood-building construction for up to six storeys, but the change will get ahead of the anticipated new edition of the National Building Code. The new code, expected to be released this year, will allow for the use of tall wood construction with fire-resistant material for up to 12 storeys.

“We commend the Government of Alberta for advancing the use of wood-building construction of up to 12 storeys with this province-wide variance,” said Paul Whittaker, Alberta Forest Products Association president. “By building with products that are made locally, we are supporting thousands of jobs in small communities and large cities throughout the province. From people working in sawmills, to value-add facilities, to jobs in construction and transportation, everyone benefits from this change. Moreover, because wood is fully renewable and has a low carbon footprint, our environment benefits, too.”

Officials noted that advancements in wood technology makes taller wood construction feasible and safe. They pointed to the encapsulated mass-timber construction component of the 2020 National Building Code which has already been reviewed by the National Building Code committees and fire-safety specialists, structural engineers, architects, scientists, and builders.

The building codes will dictate that tall wood buildings must be built as encapsulated mass timber construction, where the solid or engineered wood has been surrounded by fire-resistive material. Buildings of mass timber construction will also have full sprinkler systems.

“BILD Alberta is excited to see the Government of Alberta take steps to modernize construction, reduce red tape and address environmental needs by allowing innovative techniques to deliver the homes and buildings people need,” said Patrick Shaver, chair, BILD Alberta Chair and president of Avillia Developments, in a statement. “This provides our industry and member companies with more options in meeting the housing affordability needs of Albertans.”

The province added that the change could create 60 jobs per construction site and up to 400 jobs per new sawmill and production sites. Officials also stated that a growth in demand for lumber, for example, 100 million board feet, about $40 million (S$41.3 million) worth of lumber, is the equivalent to about two mills the size of Boucher Bros Lumber.