Just how safe are mass timber buildings?
That question was raised during a recent city council discussion on Delta signing an expression of interest to join the Provincial Office of Housing and Construction Standards Mass Timber Early Adopter Initiative.
The primary load-bearing structure in mass timber buildings is made of solid or engineered wood.
The upcoming new National Building Code will allow encapsulated mass timber construction up to 12 storeys, which in turn will be reflected in the next edition of the B.C. Building Code due out in 2022/2023.
The provincial government has introduced a mass timber early adoption initiative for participating municipalities to permit the construction of taller buildings up to 12 storeys with engineered wood products in advance of the provincial adoption of the National Building Code.
Early adopter communities can also provide feedback on the proposed provisions ahead of the major code change.
So far, 13 other municipalities, have signed on to the early adoption initiative.
Coun. Lois Jackson said there’s various safety questions that need answers.
“I always have to come up with a note of caution. I am concerned as I read different documents from different areas about the firefighting, about the safety issues under construction, and I’m not sure we have those in place. They talk about having a water supply available for every floor that’s being constructed and I don’t know if we have that in place or not, a sprinkler system for the entire area under construction. We’ve had two major fires, one in Richmond and one in Langley, where these types of buildings were under construction,” said Jackson.
“I’m also concerned that we don’t have an actual report from our fire department. They’re a major part of this change and I hope that we would have some actual written report as opposed to just a couple of comments.”
Mayor George Harvie said Delta, at this point, is not permitting such new timber buildings, but simply getting into the conversation and exploring the possibilities.
He added mass timber structures are the future, which is happening now.
A council report states Delta Fire and Emergency Services would support design elements that utilize passive fire protection, active fire detection and suppression techniques equal to or better than the B.C. Building Code.
Any project would be subject to the requirement for a Construction Fire Safety Plan.
Delta’s fire department also supports the same fire protection standards that the Vancouver Fire Department required for the recently constructed Brock Commons, a 12-storey mass timber project at the University of B.C.
It included 24/7 on-site security and phased sprinkler activation during the construction stage.
The Office of Housing and Construction Standards concurred with those standards, as most have been integrated into the new Fire Code, the report notes.
Noting most of the danger for mass timber projects, as well as any building project, would be during construction, Coun. Dan Copeland, who is Delta’s former fire chief, said extensive safety measures are integral to mass timber building projects.
He added the Brock Commons’ project still has concrete stairwells and elevator shafts.
Delta council agreed to sign an expression of interest, but also agreed with a staff recommendation for a city requirement for independent reviews by professional licensees for submitted structural designs as part of building permit applications. Delta also wants those members to have appropriate experience in designing structures of a similar type and scale, but not involved in preparing the submitted designs.