New Heights: What mass timber construction means for Vancouver Island

New Heights: What mass timber construction means for Vancouver Island

WATCH: Vancouver Island’s first 12-storey mass timber building touted as faster, cheaper and more environmentally-friendly. But what about safety concerns? Tess van Straaten takes a look.

Construction crews are hard at work on two new condo towers in Esquimalt —part of a major building boom in the township.

“It’s quite exciting actually, with the number of projects that have come through and been approved,” says Esquimalt mayor Barb Desjardins.

One of those projects is Vancouver Island’s first 12-storey mass-timber condo tower.

The 83-unit Corvette Landing will be built along Admirals by the entrance to CFB Esquimalt.

“Where you had two single family homes, we will have a 12-stories of units so there’s a significant boost to the municipal taxes,” Desjardins says.

Projects like this, and the record-breaking 18-storey Brock Commons Tallwood House at UBC, are pushing wood buildings to new heights.

But they’ll no longer need special approval after the B.C. government raised the height limit from six storeys to 12 on Wednesday.

It’s a move Premier John Horgan says will spur development and is an environmentally-friendly alternative to concrete and steel.

“We know that we can build faster,” says Horgan. “It’s cost-effective, it’s environmentally sensitive and it’s putting British Columbians to work with a B.C. product.”

The building code change in B.C. comes a year ahead of similar changes expected to the national building code.

But what about fire safety concerns?

B.C.’s first six-storey wood frame building went up in flames in 2011,  after the building code was increased from a four-storey max.

Crews battled the raging inferno for hours and burning embers sparked 10 house fires, some several blocks away.

“It’s under construction and as such, all the building systems were not in place and when they’re not in place, the fire builds quickly,” Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wilkinson of the Richmond Fire Department said at the time.

The fire risk during construction is a big concern for the firefighters’ union.

But once construction’s complete, officials say there’s extensive fire suppression.

A fire demonstration in Quebec shows a compartment built with cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels reach 1,100 Celsius.

But the blaze was contained to the compartment and burnt itself out.

“By the time they’re fully done, they have minimal risk to fire because fire suppression is so contained in buildings,” says Desjardins.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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