Code Updates and Sustainability Drive Solid Wood Adoption in the U.S.

Cross-laminated timber, also known as CLT, is gaining popularity in North America. Originally developed in the 1990s in Europethe building material is popular overseas, but has grown at a much slower pace in North America.

That’s changing, according to Nordic Structures, a Montreal-based CLT firm. The company’s projects range from the John W. Olver building at UMass Amherst at the Shawnee Mission School District Aquatic Center (pictured above) in Lenexa, Kansas.

Here, David Croteau, Vice President of Operations and Engineering at Nordic Structures, spoke to Construction Dive about the material’s growing popularity in the United States and Canada, his vision for the company and what he would say to hesitant developers about the Hardware.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: Talk about the history of the company. How did she get involved in the CLT?

David Croteau: We started in 1961 as a sawmill operation in Chibougamau, Quebec.

We ended up producing our own I-joists, which started the engineered wood products business for us. It was more on the residential side of the construction business than non-residential.

In the early 1990s, we started producing glulam, [or glue-laminated timber, a form of engineered wood] to go with our I-joists primarily for making headers above windows and doors.

We realized there was potential for growth in the non-residential market. That’s where I was hired and started this division of Nordic Structures to handle non-residential projects.

In 2010, after a visit to Europe, we decided to also embark on the CLT activity. CLT already existed in Europe, but not really in North America. So we were the first in North America to set up a factory and start producing CLT.

We had to do a fair amount of marketing and sales pitches to convince people to use this new product. But it’s not rocket science, it’s quite simple.

What is it like to use CLT in the non-residential market, especially since people may be hesitant about this technology?

Funny enough, I see the reaction a little differently. I think there are quite a few early adopters. All the big companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, they’re all building with solid wood for sustainability reasons right now.

David Croteau

Courtesy of Nordic Structures

We also see a lot of large universities taking this approach.

Right now, we’re doing projects at Harvard and Princeton, and we’ve completed projects at UMass and MSU.

People are really looking at their carbon footprint when they build their new buildings now. It’s part of their evaluation process.

And to be honest, I found it easier in the United States than in Quebec or Canada.

Why do you think adoption is easier in the United States today?

For a long time, US building codes lagged behind Canada.

Now, with the adoption of the 2021 International Building Code, originally proposed in 2019, CLT buildings as tall as 18 stories are allowed in the United States. It is even beyond the 12 stories still authorized in Canada.

In no time, you can see the effect on the overall market now. People are less reluctant to move in with the project, knowing the code is behind them.

There is also an urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Solid wood is the only carbon negative building product, unlike concrete and steel.

In the past, architects tried to convince their clients to carry out their projects with solid wood. Now everyone wants to be part of it.

So it went very well. The demand is getting bigger and bigger. The American market is now very receptive to solid wood.

How will you convince people who are hesitant about CLT to try the hardware?

I would talk about the added value that solid wood could bring them.

Sometimes the big players in real estate have a very tight market. They want a space to rent and a space that must be different from others. They want a space that they can earn a higher income from because they have something totally different.

Some developers see this opportunity and are using it now. It’s part of the conversation with potential tenants or users, that they’re doing their part for the environment.

Besides that, it makes him beautiful. You don’t need to add a lot of embellishments or finishing touches to make it look good. You don’t have to hide it, everything is exposed.

And it also reduces the overall duration of your project. So I think it’s a win-win for everyone.

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