Will Wooden Skyscrapers Grace Portland’s Skyline?

Foggy Oregon ForestFor more than a hundred years, Oregon has been the leading producer of wood products in the nation. Almost half the state is covered in forests, much of which is on federally owned land. Ever since a 1991 ruling in which a federal judge prohibited “harvests in national forests where the endangered spotted owl lived,” Oregon has been operating at a fraction of what peak capacity once was. That may change as developments in wood product technology ushers in an exciting new era of wooden construction, and in turn industrial demolition.  

A Global Boom in Wood Construction

Countries in Europe, as well as Japan and Canada, are already well underway with their own all-wood skyscrapers. Such projects include the 18-story Brock Commons at the University of British Columbia and a 70-story building in Tokyo. The impact new wooden construction would have on Portland demolition contractors is still unknown, but offers exciting possibilities in terms of recycling building materials.

As the demand for more carbon-neutral building methods has grown, wood has been considered the go-to as an alternative building material. When trees grow they naturally capture and store carbon, essentially making them a “carbon reservoir.” Building sites often generate more carbon emissions than automobiles, but the innovative new wood product, cross-laminated timber (CLT for short), offers the strength and durability of traditional building materials with fewer carbon emissions. This means not as much carbon would be released in our home state of Oregon when demolition contractors tear down these types of buildings.

What is Mass Timber?

Mass timber is used to describe a variety of building materials that are created by combining wood pieces into larger panels or beams. Whereas in the past building big meant needing big logs, mass timber allows the combination of small, third- or fourth-growth trees that can provide similar or greater strength.

More and more foresters, architects, engineers, and state officials in Portland are embracing the product. The most exciting one of these is CLT, which is available in custom pieces with holes for windows, space for wiring, and groves for panels to be locked together. This makes the actual build much simpler and efficient.

Portland has already “pushed the national record for all-wooden structures.” According to architects, mass timber has the ability to reduce the carbon footprint of large buildings “while speeding up construction and offering unique design possibilities.”

What is the environmental impact of wooden skyscrapers?

Portland Skyline at nightTall buildings account for a full 40 percent of climate pollution, and wooden structures can help offset this problem. While wood is a more carbon-capturing material than steel or concrete, it must still be sustainably sourced in order for its impact on the environment to be as minimal as possible. Portland and the State of Oregon have the unique position of being at the forefront of wooden building development and so have a responsibility to do things right.

In the rush to capitalize on a new building material, it should not be overlooked that overharvesting is just as damaging to the environment as carbon pollution. Choosing wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council can help mitigate the impact of the harvesting process. Fortunately, with CLT, clear cutting is no longer needed, as the majority of wood used is from younger trees that are often cleared to help prevent forest fires.

What this all means for industrial demolition and demolition companies in Portland is that the global boom of wooden buildings, plus the fact that Portland is a national frontrunner in wooden skyscrapers, will certainly have an impact on the demolition process and recycling and asset recovery methods.

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