On May 8, the capping ceremony for project Origine, the tallest wood-constructed condominium in North America, took place in Quebec City’s Pointe-aux-Lièvres eco-district.

The building, constructed by a consortium of EBC inc., Nordic Structures and Synchro Immobilier, is a 12-storey wood structure on top of a one-storey concrete podium.

The 41-metre tall condo uses cross-laminated timber as its primary building material.

Building with sustainably harvested wood can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution by replacing steel and concrete, two materials that produce a significant amount of carbon and solid waste while they are being made.

Project organizers estimate that building the Origine condo with wood instead of concrete will prevent 1,000 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, in addition to storing 2,065 tonnes of atmospheric carbon in the condo`s wood construction panels.

The wood used in these structures is naturally fire-resistant, absorbs humidity in the summer, provides insulation from the cold in the winter, and because of its light weight, is also less vulnerable to earthquakes.

Cross-laminated timber does shrink and settle significantly compared to concrete or other unnatural materials, but this can be planned for during the design stage.

Federal Interest

Through Natural Resources Canada’s Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative, over $1.2 million in funding was provided to this project, part of the federal government’s strategy to help expand the North American market for Canadian wood products.

The feds are working to encourage the use of wood in construction in mid- and high-rise buildings.

In this year’s budget, an additional $40 million was dedicated to increasing wood use in Canada. These funds will finance further wood demonstration projects, training and education for practitioners designing wood buildings, and continued support for building code changes.

Natural Resources Canada developed the Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative in collaboration with the Canadian Wood Council, an initiative which has also provided $2.3 million to the University of British Columbia for the construction of its 18-storey wood project, the Brock Commons Tallwood House student residence.

New Regulations

The foundations for the Origine project in Quebec City were laid when the Province announced new regulations to allow for building of wood structures up to 12 storeys in August 2015.

However, not everyone was happy with the new provincial regulations for wood structures.

The Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI) said the construction of wood buildings over 12 storeys circumvents the Canadian building code process.

The institute also expressed concern over cross-laminated timber being a less-proven material, and pointed to fires, mold, and health problems arising from use of glues and formaldehyde, as potential issues which could surface during construction.

CPCI argued that concrete provides an advantage in longevity and low maintenance costs as well.

Trade Opportunities

Regardless of potential issues, the feds are extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of laminated wood building projects, given the potential new market opportunities for Canadian wood products.

The government says projects like Origine in Quebec and Brock Commons in B.C. are particularly important given the U.S. government’s recent decision to slap duties of up to 24 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber imports.

Beyond supporting new building innovations that can make use of Canadian wood products, the feds are also looking for new export opportunities in the U.K., continental Europe and China.

“The Government of Canada will proudly continue to help Canada’s forest sector create innovative products and technologies that will create new markets and will vigorously defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Duclos continued, “That is why I recently visited the United Kingdom and continental Europe to promote Canadian wood and wood products, and Minister Carr (Natural Resources) will travel to China in June with forestry leaders to build on this momentum.”