British Columbia changes building code to permit more mass timber

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British Columbia is making changes to the provincial building-code to enable the use of mass timber in buildings, such as schools, shopping centres and housing.

The update, which is now in effect, enables encapsulated mass-timber construction (EMTC) for buildings up to 18 storeys for residential and office buildings, a six-story increase from the previous limit. 

The code changes also expand EMTC to new building types, such as schools, libraries, retail, light- and medium-industrial occupancies and care facilities.

“These changes will help reduce carbon pollution, support the forestry sector, create jobs, build more homes and lead to more vibrant communities,” said Ravi Kahlon, the province’s Minister of Housing. 

“We know mass timber looks great, and now we can use it in larger buildings and more types of buildings.”

The BC Building Code changes for mass timber were developed by a national joint task group co-chaired by British Columbia and Quebec. 

The code changes were reviewed by an expert technical advisory group that included representatives from multiple provinces, the fire services community, fire safety engineers, technical building code experts, regulators and industry.

“This is another step forward for British Columbia’s world-class mass-timber sector as we continue to accelerate the adoption of this strong, clean building technology,” said Jagrup Brar, Minister of State for Trade, and chair of the Mass Timber Advisory Council.

“Through our Mass Timber Action Plan, we are diversifying both our forestry and construction industries to build a strong, clean and sustainable economy that works for people.”

The building code changes will be submitted into the national code system for future consideration for the national building codes.

Advancing mass-timber technology is part of the province’s Homes for People Action Plan to address the housing crisis through a variety of innovative approaches, including in the construction sector. 

This requires new technologies like digital design, mass timber and prefabrication to cut down on construction times and on-site labour needs to quickly build more housing.

British Columbia has also focused on increased density in urban areas through small-scale multi-unit housing and transit-oriented development, creating more mass-timber opportunities to build homes more quickly with a lower carbon footprint.

“These expanded provisions for mass timber will enhance the innovation already happening in the province, offering designers, developers and municipalities the opportunity to pursue high-performance, low-carbon wood construction in a wider range of buildings,” said Rick Jeffrey, President and CEO of the Canadian Wood Council.

“The 18-storey EMTC provisions have tremendous potential to strengthen the B.C. economy by using B.C. forest products and workers to build much-needed affordable housing.”