mass timber construction ontario

Ontario to allow the construction of huge towers made of wood

The provincial government announced on Monday that it plans to amend the Ontario Building Code to permit mass timber structures as tall as 18 storeys, a move officials claim will help spur the construction of housing in the province.

As of early 2024, Ontario's Building Code allows for buildings constructed using mass timber structural systems to rise 12 storeys. The current maximum for encapsulated mass timber buildings was instated in mid-2022, itself an update of the previous 2014 change permitting six-storey mass timber buildings.

Buildings taller than these maximums have indeed been approved under site-specific exemptions, including the University of Toronto's new wood tower currently under construction and George Brown College's Limberlost Place. The tallest wood structure planned in Toronto is proposed to rise 31 storeys.

The changing regulations represent a growing understanding of the building medium, which the province now touts as "an environmental solution for quieter and faster construction with the same fire and structural protection as other building methods."

In short, this is not the same untreated wood that builders of the past used to construct brick-and-beam structures prone to fire.

Mass timber offers clear environmental benefits over concrete and steel construction. However, faster is the key word here, as the provincial government is leaning on mass timber as a means to get homes built faster.

"The use of mass timber can help the sector build more homes faster, keep the cost of construction down and boost our northern economy," said Paul Calandra, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. "As we work to cut red tape in order to increase housing supply, we're taking an innovative approach to help our partners get shovels in the ground."

The province is also touting this move as a boon for the forestry sector, noting how this method will support "more efficient and rapid construction from renewable forestry resources grown and harvested in Ontario by Ontario workers for Ontario families."

"Our abundant natural resources and highly-skilled forestry sector are helping to meet the demand for housing across the province," said Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

"Advanced wood construction will help bring long-term investments to northern communities that will create new, good-paying jobs while increasing housing supply and supporting Ontario's largest renewable natural resource sector."

Looking past the lower carbon footprint of timber construction, the Ford government seems more interested in monetizing trees than their environmental benefits. News of these upcoming changes to the province's Building Code came on the same day the Ontario PC government ordered the LCBO to resume distributing single-use paper bags.

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