Manufacturing of building materials and construction of buildings make up 11% of the global greenhouse gas emission by sector. Mass timber construction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving wood into buildings with designs that have traditionally been dominated by steel and concrete. The environmental impacts of mass timber buildings were compared against those of functionally equivalent conventional buildings. Three pairs of buildings were designed for the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and Southeast regions in the United States to conform to mass timber building types with 8, 12, or 18 stories. Conventional buildings constructed with concrete and steel were designed for comparisons with the mass timber buildings. Over all regions and building heights, the mass timber buildings exhibited a reduction in the embodied carbon varying between 22% and 50% compared to the concrete buildings. Embodied carbon per unit of area increased with building height as the quantity of concrete, metals, and other nonrenewable materials increased. Total embodied energy to produce, transport, and construct A1–A5 materials was higher in all mass timber buildings compared to equivalent concrete. Further research is needed to predict the long-term carbon emissions and carbon mitigation potential of mass timber buildings to conventional building materials.
The US housing construction market consumes vast amounts of resources, with most structural elements derived from wood, a renewable and sustainable resource. The same cannot be said for all nonresidential or high-rise buildings, which are primarily made of concrete and steel. As part of continuous environmental improvement processes, building life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a useful tool to compare the environmental footprint of building structures. This study is a comparative LCA of an 8360-m2, 12-story mixed-use apartment/office building designed for Portland, OR, and constructed from mainly mass timber. The designed mass timber building had a relatively lightweight structural frame that used 1782 m3 of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and 557 m3 of glue-laminated timber (glulam) and associated materials, which replaced approximately 58% of concrete and 72% of rebar that would have been used in a conventional building. Compared with a similar concrete building, the mass timber building had 18%, 1%, and 47% reduction in the impact categories of global warming, ozone depletion, and eutrophication, respectively, for the A1-A5 building LCA. The use of CLT and glulam materials substantially decreased the carbon footprint of the building, although it consumed more primary energy compared with a similar concrete building. The impacts for the mass timber building were affected by large amounts of gypsum board, which accounted for 16% of total building mass. Both lowering the amount of gypsum and keeping the mass timber production close to the construction site could lower the overall environmental footprint of the mass timber building.
Mass timber building materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) have captured attention in mid- to high-rise building designs because of their potential environmental benefits. The recently updated multistory building code also enables greater utilization of these wood building materials. The cost-effectiveness of mass timber buildings is also undergoing substantial analysis. Given the relatively new presence of CLT in United States, high front-end construction costs are expected. This study presents the life-cycle cost (LCC) for a 12-story, 8,360-m2 mass timber building to be built in Portland, Oregon. The goal was to assess its total life-cycle cost (TLCC) relative to a functionally equivalent reinforced-concrete building design using our in-house-developed LCC tool. Based on commercial construction cost data from the RSMeans database, a mass timber building design is estimated to have 26 percent higher front-end costs than its concrete alternative. Front-end construction costs dominated the TLCC for both buildings. However, a decrease of 2.4 percent TLCC relative to concrete building was observed because of the estimated longer lifespan and higher end-of-life salvage value for the mass timber building. The end-of-life savings from demolition cost or salvage values in mass timber building could offset some initial construction costs. There are minimal historical construction cost data and lack of operational cost data for mass timber buildings; therefore, more studies and data are needed to make the generalization of these results. However, a solid methodology for mass timber building LCC was developed and applied to demonstrate several cost scenarios for mass timber building benefits or disadvantages.
Global construction industry has a huge influence on world primary energy consumption, spending, and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. To better understand these factors for mass timber construction, this work quantified the life cycle environmental and economic performances of a high-rise mass timber building in U.S. Pacific Northwest region through the use of life-cycle assessment (LCA) and life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA). Using the TRACI impact category method, the cradle-to-grave LCA results showed better environmental performances for the mass timber building relative to conventional concrete building, with 3153 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor area compared to 3203 CO2-eq per m2 floor area, respectively. Over 90% of GHGs emissions occur at the operational stage with a 60-year study period. The end-of-life recycling of mass timber could provide carbon offset of 364 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor that lowers the GHG emissions of the mass timber building to a total 12% lower GHGs emissions than concrete building. The LCCA results showed that mass timber building had total life cycle cost of $3976 per m2 floor area that was 9.6% higher than concrete building, driven mainly by upfront construction costs related to the mass timber material. Uncertainty analysis of mass timber product pricing provided a pathway for builders to make mass timber buildings cost competitive. The integration of LCA and LCCA on mass timber building study can contribute more information to the decision makers such as building developers and policymakers.
Climate change, environmental degradation, and limited resources are motivations for sustainable forest management. Forests, the most abundant renewable resource on earth, used to make a wide variety of forest-based products for human consumption. To provide a scientific measure of a product’s sustainability and environmental performance, the life cycle assessment (LCA) method is used. This article provides a comprehensive review of environmental performances of forest-based products including traditional building products, emerging (mass-timber) building products and nanomaterials using attributional LCA. Across the supply chain, the product manufacturing life-cycle stage tends to have the largest environmental impacts. However, forest management activities and logistics tend to have the greatest economic impact. In addition, environmental trade-offs exist when regulating emissions as indicated by the latest traditional wood building product LCAs. Interpretation of these LCA results can guide new product development using biomaterials, future (mass) building systems and policy-making on mitigating climate change. Key challenges include handling of uncertainties in the supply chain and complex interactions of environment, material conversion, resource use for product production and quantifying the emissions released.
The use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a building material is gaining popularity in the North American building sector, especially in mid- to high-rise building designs. This study presents the methodology of life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) and an example of a hypothetical case study in Portland, Oregon, USA, of a CLT mass timber building compared with a baseline code-compliant concrete alternative. It was found, not unexpectedly, that the mass timber building with premium energy and water saving designs exhibited a lower total life-cycle cost (TLCC) than a concrete building for a 60-year study period under provided research assumptions and limitations. The construction cost dominated the TLCCs for both buildings. Little to no historical construction and operational data exist for mass timber buildings in North America, which made this analysis limited for generalizing the results. However, a solid methodology was established for future LCCA on mass timber buildings, and cost-specific data will be implemented when the information becomes available.
The building industry currently consumes over a third of energy produced and emits 39% of greenhouse gases globally produced by human activities. The manufacturing of building materials and the construction of buildings make up 11% of those emissions within the sector. Whole-building life-cycle assessment is a holistic and scientific tool to assess multiple environmental impacts with internationally accepted inventory databases. A comparison of the building life-cycle assessment results would help to select materials and designs to reduce total environmental impacts at the early planning stage for architects and developers, and to revise the building code to improve environmental performance. The Nature Conservancy convened a group of researchers and policymakers from governments and non-profit organizations with expertise across wood product life-cycle assessment, forest carbon, and forest products market analysis to address emissions and energy consumption associated with mass timber building solutions. The study disclosed a series of detailed, comparative life-cycle assessments of pairs of buildings using both mass timber and conventional materials. The methodologies used in this study are clearly laid out in this paper for transparency and accountability. A plethora of data exists on the favorable environmental performance of wood as a building material and energy source, and many opportunities appear for research to improve on current practices.