Wood Future

Washington State is embracing mass timber construction

Architecture West
Washington State is embracing mass timber construction. Shown: The first proposed high-rise timber building in the U.S., slated for Portland, Oregon and designed by Portland-based LEVER Architecture. (Courtesy LEVER Architecture)
Washington State is embracing mass timber construction. Shown: The first proposed high-rise timber building in the U.S., slated for Portland, Oregon and designed by Portland-based LEVER Architecture. (Courtesy LEVER Architecture)

With a mix of recently-enacted and forthcoming legislation, Washington State is beginning to embrace mass timber construction.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently signed legislation for State Bill 5450, a new law that directs the state’s building code council to “adopt rules for the use of mass timber products for residential and commercial building construction.” The law will allow state and local jurisdictions to begin to work mass timber construction into local building and zoning codes, a first step toward the wider adoption of the construction technology.

The law includes the requirement that rules adopted for the use of mass timber products by the state building code council “must consider applicable national and international standards,” a nod to the forthcoming changes to the International Building Code (IBC) that would institute new guidelines for mass timber structures rising as high as 18 stories. The proposed changes are currently under consideration by IBC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings, which was established in 2016. The committee will begin collecting public comments on the proposed changes in April of this year.

In a more aggressive move, the Washington State Legislature is also working toward enacting State Bill 5379 (SB 5379), a measure that would require all public buildings in the state rising 12 stories or less be built using Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). The move is a natural one for Washington, which has a thriving timber industry and has some catching up to do in terms of mass timber adoption when compared to neighboring Oregon. According to the Washington State Department of Commerce, the timber industry brings in over $28 billion in sales annually across the state and employs over 105,000 workers garnering over $5 billion in wages.

The potential law would make the state the first in the country requiring mass timber construction. Currently, SB 5379 is only in committee at the moment and a timeline for passage and enactment has not been released.

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