Mass Timber’s Rise in Construction

Holmes mass timber construction leaders in the US

It seems counter intuitive to consider wood construction as up-and-coming. Mass timber modernizes one of the oldest-known materials for new ways to design and build. Covering a broad set of products, mass timber layers pieces of wood together for increased strength. Additional advantages include biophilic design, carbon reduction, offsite prefabrication, and speed of construction with a reduced workforce. Gaining traction in the US, mass timber’s applications span tech and life science, residential, and higher education spaces. Through international and local building code provisions, mass timber high-rises are growing stateside.

Holmes has consulted on 100+ mass timber projects worldwide with 80+ in the US—including the largest mass timber building in North America at completion. We meet architectural and performance objectives from structural, fire, and life safety standpoints. We also design for fabrication and contribute to product development. Reach out to Eric McDonnell and Bevan Jones to learn more.

Let’s Talk Timber

Optimizer Tool Saves Money, Time, & Resources

Our timber building optimizer yields an optimal structural grid in record time. We’ve built this proprietary software to identify a project’s best mass timber fit. To optimize a realistic building, we layer on constraints. Inputs include pricing from the main suppliers, fire ratings, number of stories, floor-to-floor heights, depths of members, and more. The optimizer outputs framing options with wood volumes and relative structural costs, pointing us to the most economical solution. The lower the volume, the greater the financial and environmental savings.

Holmes Mass Timber Optimizer Tool Most Efficient Mass Timber Buildings Software

Our timber building optimizer kicks out grids based on wood volume and cost. With this tool we iterate to the most logical solution—shortcutting the decision making process from weeks to mere hours.

Eric McDonnell, Principal
Four Mass Timber Buildings Under Construction at UC Santa Cruz Kresge College Renewal
4 Mass Timber Buildings - UC Santa Cruz Kresge College
Founders Hall - University of Washington

Lowering a Building’s Carbon Footprint

Mass timber reduces a building’s carbon footprint relative to more conventional materials. To begin with, wood is a renewable resource that sequesters atmospheric carbon. These buildings are also lighter than other construction types, reducing seismic demand on the structure. Our engineers evaluate the entrained carbon in alternate structural systems and the results are clear: using wood as the primary structural system results in the lowest embodied carbon.

Designing buildings in wood is an art. There are a number of factors that we consider, from the in-service movement of the material to accommodating required tolerances and optimal exposure. When done well, the resulting systems are expressed in the architecture. The structure functions as the finish,  further reducing material quantities.

Exposed Mass Timber at Sustainable Tech Campus Silicon Valley California

Life Cycle Analyses show that a mass timber structure can reduce a building’s embodied carbon over a steel/concrete alternate by up to 70%! 

Megan Stringer, Associate Principal
Exposed CLT panels Brentwood Public Library
Brentwood Public Library
University of Oregon Knight Campus CLT Stair
CLT Stair - University of Oregon Knight Campus

Streamlining Approvals with Reliable Fire Design

Our fire engineers study the performance of mass timber construction in potential fire scenarios. Given its compressed form and large surface area, mass timber performs well with predictable charring patterns. We help project teams identify applicable mass timber construction types in relation to building massing and local code requirements. Performance-based fire design offers an opportunity to increase the number of stories and amount of exposed wood. To build our case, we leverage fire modeling, research, testing, and improved fire-protection measures. We provide the necessary safety in design while challenging some of the industry’s preconceived notions of what is possible!

Thermal Finite Analysis of Mass Timber Connection Detail

A comprehensive performance-based fire assessment for mass timber should consider realistic fire exposure. This accounts for the fire load, amount of exposed timber and ventilation, compartment properties, performance of connections, and impact of cooling and fire suppression systems. 

Bevan Jones, Principal & CEO (Fire)
Timber char analysis and burn test

Product Development Capabilities

Increasingly, we use our structural and fire engineering skills to design and optimize mass timber with a productized approach. We develop kits of parts down to the connector details—informed by our knowledge of building codes and manufacturer constraints. When our clients seek to further innovate building products and systems, we introduce our friends at Holmes Solutions.

Holmes Solutions helps design, test, and develop new products, with an ever increasing portfolio of work in mass timber. We pinpoint time and material savings that add up over repeatable rollouts. These are solutions you can trust, de-risked through evidence-based design at New Zealand’s largest commercial testing lab. The international Holmes Group has collaborated on mass timber products in the North American, European, and Asia-Pacific markets.

More Perspectives

Specialist team of fire engineers provides advanced finite element analysis.

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