Timber has been making a rather big splash across the commercial real estate industry due to a number of changes in both industry and public demand. New lamination methods make it possible to use wood in large commercial projects (even skyscrapers), edging out more traditional options like concrete or steel.
In addition to the technology advancements, timber has environmental benefits that many are hoping can serve as an answer to our current crisis. It can cut down on building's carbon footprint by up to 60%. And while it's not quite taking the world by storm just yet, it's certainly a trend to watch in the next few years.
A Look Back in History
Timber is usually associated with the quaint cottages of yore, mostly because it didn't take owners long to realize that raw wood simply wasn't a sustainable building material. Its susceptibility to moisture and extreme weather meant that it was likely to rot or blow away long before anyone had a chance to reap a financial or practical benefit from it. Even smaller Washington County commercial real estate will usually opt for more durable materials. Architects and real estate investors had all but forgotten wood entirely until around 2013 when the industry started to see a resurgence in the once-blacklisted material.
The Increase of Tall Timber
Tall timber refers to any building made of wood that's seven or more stories high. Those who follow trends in commercial real estate started to see the demand for timber rise as more builders opted to make it their primary material. This trend can be found most notably in Australia, where it's not unusual to see 10-story buildings made entirely of wood. Whether it's a hotel, stadium, or housing project, wood continues to be a solid choice for practically any new construction building. The timber adds a new dimension to the skyline and encourages the public to see just how functional our natural materials can be.
Speaking of changing the aesthetics of a city, timber can be added to existing buildings to update their appearance. A vertical extension can not only increase the utility of a building, but it can also save older buildings from being torn down. For example, Spain has been criticized for many of its commercial buildings due to their low utility and high maintenance costs. Because of their age, their energy efficiency and accessibility are simply not up to par by today's standards. However, instead of demolishing the structures and starting from scratch, vertical timber extensions can provide a new standard of energy efficiency and safety (while simultaneously improving the look and feel of the buildings).
By definition, timber is an environmentally friendly building material. And while trees may take time to grow, there are ways to plant them responsibly to ensure cleaner air and a healthier ozone. But that's not the only benefit that timber has for commercial real estate. From storybook cottages to 200-story skyscrapers, new laminating techniques open new doors for both developers, builders, and investors alike:
- Cross-laminated timber (CLT): CLT is 20% lighter than concrete, which ultimately means there's more opportunity to build additional stories onto the building.
- Nail-laminated timber (NLT): Both NLT and CLT can also be harvested to trap harmful carbon into the trees after it's laminated—so it never has a chance to pollute the air. It may actually begin to reverse some of the worst effects of industrial pollution. They're both resistant to fire and built to withstand any number of potential threats.
What Lies Ahead
There has been a great deal of change in the building materials of today, with practically every industry trying to innovate how they do business. For example, concrete is now being produced with special polymers that can revert to their original shape if damaged. But the available evidence points to a future where sustainability is valued over profits, especially as the impact of environmental change becomes more apparent to future generations.
Plus, wood is actually faster to work with than traditional materials, and it's a form of renewable construction material Australian developers claimed to shave six weeks off of their construction time by relying on timber. This benefit can ultimately reduce budgets for new projects and limit the disruption a city sees during the construction process.
The benefits of timber are just starting to become known throughout the world, so it may take some time before this trend becomes a full-blown movement. However, eventually, we may see more and more cities and developers making timber their primary material. (Laminated wood can be also used with materials such as brick and steel to augment and reinforce the structure.) The new timber of today provides an attractive alternative that is every bit as strong as it is sustainable.