Faster & Greener: Canada’s Top Bank Says ‘Yes’ to Mass Timber

The Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest bank, is pushing Canada to become a global hub for timber-based construction.

Thu 30 May 24


Mass timber made up just 1% of North American building materials in 2022, but that is changing…and fast.

Last month, Wood Central reported that mid-rise and high-rise buildings made from cross-laminated timber and glulam are now mainstream across the United States, with Canada pushing to expand plants from B.C. to Alberta and Ontario to Nova Scotia.

“The demand is extremely high for mass timber now,” according to Frank Gannon, Western Archrib’s director of stakeholder engagement, who spoke to CBC News inside the company’s new 155,000-square-foot facility, now struggling to keep up with orders. “We are filling capacity slots about ten months out — so yes, the phone’s ringing off the hook.”

Now, a report by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBA), more than 660 mass timber projects (up to the end of 2022) are rising across Canada – almost double the number rising across the U.S. until that point. And of those out of the ground or in the pipeline, 87% of projects are clustered around the populated centres of B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

Screenshot 30 5 2024 13847 thoughtleadership.rbc .com 1
Source: RBC Climate Action Institute, Mantle Developments, 2022

However, the RBA argues that, with the correct policy settings, a pivot to prioritising mass timber construction over steel and concrete will not only cut Canada’s total emissions by 10% over the next seven years but will also unlock a CA $1 billion mass timber industry, “with a share of this growth anticipated to flow to Indigenous communities.”

And Canada is responding.

In April, Wood Central reported that the Canadian federal government and the Ontario and British Columbian provincial governments are changing building codes to allow mass timber buildings to rise 12-storey (nationally) and 18-storey (in both provinces).

Current federal tracking shows mass timber is most commonly used in institutional buildings, including schools and community centres. However, as more research has emerged attesting to the fire safety of tall wood structures, recent changes to building codes have opened the door to higher buildings –  including a 31-storey mixed-use building before Toronto planning authorities.

If approved, the 31-storey cross-laminated timber building would be Canada's tallest hybrid timber building and one of the largest anywhere in the world. (Image Credit: Icon Architects dated 2022)
If approved, the 31-storey cross-laminated timber building would be Canada’s tallest hybrid timber building and one of the largest anywhere in the world. (Image Credit: Icon Architects dated 2022)

“CLT is the transformational material for tall buildings,” Brian Merwin, the senior vice president with Mercer Mass Timbers, said, adding that most of the material used in high-rises is for the floors. “[It’s] sort of filled that missing gap to get us to where we are today.”

Combined with glulam beams and columns, cross-laminated timber floors and walls can offer a viable alternative to traditional steel-and-concrete building systems. A recent U.S. study demonstrated that switching out steel and replacing it with CLT floors, glulam beams, and columns made buildings 35% lighter, emitted 40% less carbon, and used substantially less concrete in the foundations.

Faster and lighter

According to Robert Malczyk, a structural engineer and principal at Vancouver Structural Engineering, mass timber carries several advantages over concrete. It’s faster to work with than concrete, he told CBC, because panels can be prefabricated off-site and assembled on-site. 

And Mr Malczyk speaks from experience – adding that his own fire-storey Vancouver office, made from mass timber, was erected in just 12 days.

Robert Malczyk is the principal at Vancouver’s Timber Engineering Inc. In 2019, he spoke to @WoodSolutions at the World Construction and Timber Engineering conference in Seol about the future of mass timber construction. Footage courtesy of @WoodSolutionsAustralia.

“As an owner, I saved a lot in crane time, in the closure of the streets time,” Mr Malczyk said, adding that its lightweight nature makes it more resilient to earthquakes. “It has this beautiful calming effect; it’s a natural material. We just love to be surrounded by wood.”

Faster housing construction?

For Mohammad Mohammad, a senior research adviser with Natural Resources Canada, mass timber will play an essential role in ramping up housing—especially in northern communities, where concrete can be prohibitively expensive and hard to ship. 

“[You can] basically establish a new housing development within weeks or months,” he told CBC, adding that “now that we can go taller and larger with mass timber, it’s just adding another construction system, another tool to our toolbox.”

While Rick Jeffery, CEO of the Canadian Wood Council, does not see a scenario where mass timber fully replaces concrete and steel, he does see an environment where the three materials can and will complement each other in hybrid construction systems.

However, he believes mass timber will be used much more often as Canada aims to build its way out of the housing crisis: “We see there’s a big opportunity on that residential side.”

The global mass timber market

According to the RBA, the global mass timber market was expected to reach CA $1.9 billion in 2023. Analysts estimate that if demand grows at 14.5% annually, it could reach CA $4.9 billion by 2030.

As it stands, Canada’s market share of mass timber (up to 2023) was CA $379 million, or just under 20% of the global market. RBA forecasts that under a scenario where Canada increases production capacity and captures 25% of the global market, the country could see economic output surpass CA $1.2 billion by 2030.

Screenshot 30 5 2024 131059 thoughtleadership.rbc .com
RBC Climate Action Institute derived analysis using data in Polaris Market Research’s Cross Laminated Timber Market report, Natural Resources Canada Mass Timber database, and Statistics Canada sectoral GDP data

“While there are no official employment data for the mass timber sector, we estimate that the sector employs, directly and indirectly, about 4,000 Canadians in 202311. The sector’s job growth is anticipated to triple by 2030 to a high of 12,150 jobs across manufacturing, technology, forestry, design and engineering if future demand materialises,” the RBA said.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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