Wood revival at CIRS

Lumber, rarely a structural material in commercial buildings, is having a 21st-century revival at UBC’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. It’s in beams, columns and floors and will help to make CIRS a regenerative building that improves its environment.

When CIRS opens in November 2011, it will contain approximately 940 cubic meters of wood. More than one third will come from forests affected by the pine beetle infestation and 210 cubic meters will be Forest Stewardship Council-certified, the highest social and environmental standard for commercial wood in B.C.

CIRS designers have minimized the use of concrete and steel, which have a greater carbon footprint than wood. For example, the concrete, glass, aluminum and brick used in CIRS is estimated to emit 525 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2 e), while wood used in the project will store an estimated 600 tonnes of CO2 e. As a result, the four-storey project will store 75 tonnes more CO2 e than is emitted during the production of its building materials.

Beetle kill wood has accounted for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the province, more than all of the province’s human activity combined, more than motor vehicle emissions, and nearly double the output of Alberta’s oil sands. Yet this damaged wood is the same high quality as other B.C. lumber if it’s harvested within a few years of being attacked. Using it prevents carbon from escaping decaying trees. It also clears space for new growth.

CIRS, which is being built to meet or exceed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ®) Platinum certification standards, is among a new trend in leading edge commercial scale buildings in B.C. to use wood in its structure. UBC’s Okanagan campus’ Centre of Excellence, a recently opened leading edge facility, also has a wood structure.

While using wood this way may seem new to some, wood was once used for everything, including boats, bridges, and airplanes as well as big buildings. Vancouver has a 100-year-old wood mid-rise building in its historic Gastown, for example. Wood was passed over for newer materials in bigger buildings, leaving it with the small buildings like homes, motels, condos, low-rise offices. This trend may be reversing.

Wood is also a sound choice for emergencies. It’s designed to meet fire-resistance ratings. Heavy timber is less heat conductive than steel or concrete so it reduces heat transfer that spreads fires. Its strength-to-weight ratio is a good structural component for seismic performance, and earthquake research suggests that modern wood structures absorb energy and seismic forces better than other building materials.

Learn more about CIRS at: www.sustain.ubc.ca.

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UBC Reports | Vol. 57 | No. 7 | Jul. 7, 2011

CIRS’ wood construction will provide many environmental benefits. Ann Campbell Photograph

CIRS’ wood construction will provide many environmental benefits. Ann Campbell Photograph

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Vancouver has a 100-year-old wood mid-rise building in its historic Gastown.

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