Canada’s cement and steel sectors say Quebec is favouring one industry and possibly putting public safety at risk by allowing wood to be used in the construction of buildings up to 12 storeys high.
The Cement Association of Canada said Wednesday that the province’s new guide for the construction of taller wood buildings is primarily aimed at supporting Canada’s forest industry.
“The government has a duty to protect the health of its citizens, not that of a particular industry,” said association president Michael McSweeney.
The association added that the use of cross-laminated timber building systems is no more environmentally friendly than other building systems already recognized in the code, when considering the full life cycle of a building.
Hellen Christodoulou, Quebec regional director of Canadian Institute of Steel Construction, added that not enough research has been completed to ensure the safety of taller wooden buildings.
“The government as not studied this well. It’s just a political move and it’s problematic,” she said in an interview.
Christodoulou added that the wood sector receives heavy subsidies not shared with the concrete and steel industries, which contribute substantially to the economy through taxes and jobs.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced Monday that the province is the first in Canada to allow wood construction in taller buildings.
Rule changes in 2010 allowed wood to be used in buildings of up to five or six storeys. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia allow wood-frame construction up to six storeys while other provinces limit them to four floors.
The National Building Code, which provinces consult in developing their own rules, will update its 2015 code to permit wood buildings up to six stories. A review to go even higher is expected to be studied in 2020.
The Canadian Wood Council called safety questions raised by the rival associations fear mongering.
“We’re providing a new construction choice for builders and this will impact a market they currently own so it’s natural that they would be interested in opposing this,” council president Michael Giroux said.
He said construction of taller buildings is very different from light-frame designs used in smaller structures. Taller buildings use strong and advanced construction technologies and modern mass timber products like cross-laminated timber, glued-laminated timber and structural composite lumber.
While the use of wood in taller construction is in its infancy in Canada, such buildings are already in place in Britain, Norway, Austria, Australia, Switzerland and Italy.
The concept also dates back 1,400 years, with 19-storey pagodas built to withstand earthquakes in Japan, Giroux said.
“These things are not first in the world, it’s just a first for Canada and a first for Quebec.”
Eventually buildings will be hybrid structures that use different building materials, Giroux added.
The Ontario Home Builders Association has said wood-frame construction is 20 per cent cheaper than steel and poured concrete for mid-rise buildings.