Though cross laminated timber (CLT) was developed in Switzerland in the 1990s, it has only been building hype in the construction industry since the early 2000s. These pre-fabricated panels, which are made of wood planks that are stacked crosswise and glued or nailed together, not only decrease construction time (a week or less for an average sized floor plan) – but are also considered a green building material.
As I described in a previous article, CLT is considered sustainable because it has a lower embodied energy per weight than many other building materials, especially concrete. Also, the highly pre-fabricated panels reduce construction waste, maintain ambient temperatures well (increasing the energy efficiency of the building), and are lightweight, requiring less material for foundation.
When Can I Buy CLT in the U.S.?
Despite the many benefits of cross laminated timber, it has yet to sweep the American construction industry. In a June 4, 2012 New York Times article, Henry Fountain described the material’s growing popularity in Europe, which is fueled by flexible building codes and Austria’s dominant CLT production.
Even though Austria currently produces 80% of the world’s CLT, a forest epidemic has made the U.S. a potential future rival in the market. The Mountain Pine Beetle is attacking North American trees (and up to 44% of Colorado’s forests), leaving behind a great deal of wood that could be used for CLT.
However, the main barrier to domestic production and consumption of CLT has so far been limited knowledge of the material. Borjen Yeh, technical services director of APA – The Engineered Wood Association, told the Times, “not many engineers in this country understand how to design or construct using CLT”.
Despite this, some hopefuls hope to jumpstart the market in America, producing CLT for builders who are ahead of the curve and interested in using the product.
Fountain highlighted Innovative Timber Systems, a CLT company based in Whitefish, Montana. The company hopes to be the first to manufacture CLT in the United States. However, the New York Times reported that so far, the company has only built one structure using cross laminated timber – a martial arts studio. The building used panels imported from Austria.
Additionally, the University of Utah’s Integrated Technology in Architecture Center is working on a new model of CLT, called interlocking cross-laminated timber (ICLT), which incorporates this “beetle kill”. ICLT is similar to the CLT used in Europe, except that the panels are pre-designed to exclude the use of fasteners and adhesives, which will reduce construction costs.
ICLT will be available in the U.S. in the next 3-5 years. Considering the U.S.’s slow acceptance of cross laminated timber, I would expect that it will also take at least this long for traditional CLT to really take hold in the market.
However, U.S. builders can potentially take advantage of this market gap by learning about and using CLT before it becomes popular – becoming some of the first American “experts” in CLT and distinguishing themselves in the construction industry.
A recent graduate of Cornell University, where she studied Environmental Science and concentrated in Sustainable Development. Her interest in green building and LEED stems from her project-based coursework at Cornell, where she proposed design strategies for sustainable developments in Helena, MT and Ithaca, NY. Claire also exercised her passion for sustainability and energy conservation through extracurricular activities at Cornell, such as Solar Decathlon, Lights Off Cornell and Sustainability Hub. For the last three summers, she worked on energy projects at a town government, including an on-site hydrogen station and EECBG-funded activities.