The Benefits of Building with Wood
Posted by Michael S. on February 4, 2016 in Contractor Focus

Wood has been an essential building material for as long as humankind has been building structures. Today, wood is still the king of light frame construction, but as buildings have grown larger, we’ve seen a shift to steel and concrete because of their strength and durability. Could that be changing?


All across the world, wood-framed, high-rise buildings are popping up. In fact, thanks to a competition sponsored primarily by the United States Department of Agriculture, wood-framed, high-rise buildings will be constructed in New York City and Portland, Oregon. These buildings will be built with engineered wood panels and beams, which are referred to as “mass timber” or “tall wood.” Common forms of engineered wood include cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), and glue-laminated timber (glulam).


But what is the point of using mass timber? Why not stick with steel and concrete? I’m glad you asked.


  • Strength. CLT is essentially perpendicular layered panels of dimensional lumber. This offers exceptional structural stability for the buildings.
  • Fire resistance. You would think that wood has a high fire risk. However, research shows that these panels develop a protective char layer, thereby inhibiting further burn and maintaining their structural integrity. Trust me—I have seen this principle firsthand whenever I try building a bonfire.
  • Environmental performance. Concrete and steel leave huge carbon footprints, while wood absorbs carbon dioxide. Also, the harvesting and milling of wood uses a fraction of the energy used to manufacture steel and concrete.
  • Sustainability. Wood is a renewable resource—even a tree-hugger like me recognizes this simple fact. It is the only structural material that grows naturally. However, it is essential that trees are harvested from sustainably managed forests. Some mass-timber manufacturers have even harvested acres of dead trees killed by mountain pine beetles.
  • Faster construction. The panels are made off-site to the proper specifications, with door and window openings already cut. The lighter weight of the panels means they go up easier than concrete.
  • Value. Though pure material cost is currently comparable to that of steel and concrete, the reduced installation time can help lower costs.
  • Seismic resilience. Wood is very light for the strength it offers, which reduces the amount of force attracted. Research has shown that mass-timber buildings meet or exceed seismic design requirements.
  • Aesthetics. Wood panels and beams are often left exposed, creating a warm and beautiful interior.


Mass timber is not going to erase the need for steel and concrete. But there are plenty of applications where it may be the better fit. And given the remarkable environmental benefits, this tree-hugger gives two thumbs up to cutting down trees! 

Michael S.
Michael S. is a construction market analyst who has worked at ACUITY over 26 years. He has been heavily involved in the construction industry since 2009. His love for construction started at a young age, which motivated him to get more involved in construction business at ACUITY. In his spare time, Mike likes to be outside and enjoy nature by hiking and running. If he could pick any travel destination in the world it would be somewhere with trees, mountains, rivers, lakes, wildlife, and hiking trails.

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