The Benefits and Common Pitfalls of Mass Timber in Structural Engineering

In this episode, we talk to Ricky McLain, P.E., SE, who is the Senior Technical Director at Tall Wood, WoodWorks about mass timber in structural engineering — what it is, some of the common pitfalls for mass timber projects, and how structural engineers can play a significant role in setting a mass timber project up for success.

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Mass Timber in Structural Engineering

Mass Timber in Structural Engineering

Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Ricky in This Episode:

  • What is mass timber?
  • Why is mass timber suddenly so relevant to structures in the United States now?
  • How can a structural engineer promote the use of mass timber to their clients?
  • What are some of common pitfalls in a mass timber project?
  • How can engineers determine what products each manufacturer is producing?
  • How can structural engineers play a significant role in setting a mass timber project up for success?
  • In what ways can an engineer use mass timber as a differentiating opportunity for their business development strategy?

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Mass Timber in Structural Engineering:

  • Mass timber is an umbrella term that encompasses a large number of products, e.g., CLT (cross-laminated timber), and is similar to heavy timber construction. Most of the products use a small dimensional lumber combined together to create a larger cross-section.
  • Mass timber was first introduced to the marketplace in terms of building construction about 30 years ago in Europe, and has been used extensively internationally for the past two to three decades. It has only really been used more frequently in the U.S. in the last six to seven years.
  • As the global population, including the U.S. population, continues to grow, there is a significant shift to more urban occupancy. Building design professionals have started to realize that they play an especially important role in the environmental responsibility and sustainability of the buildings. Because a significant focus is being placed on the embodied carbon of the materials being used in a structure, and because structural elements in a building make up a huge part of that piece of a carbon pie, there are more people starting to look at mass timber as a way to potentially reduce the carbon impact of construction materials. These factors coming together is what started the movement of mass timber.
  • When structural engineers want to promote the use of mass timber to their clients, they need to first understand the material and why it could benefit a specific project.
  • Mass timber is not a commodity product, as each manufacturer may be using a slightly different species/grade/thickness of wood. Structural engineers must work together with their manufacturers and really understand their manufacturers’ capabilities and supply chain.
  • The list of mass timber manufacturers is not very long, so it is worth reaching out to each one of them to get to know them and their products.
  • A mass timber project from start of design to finish of construction has the possibility of being a quicker process when working with a manufacturer earlier on throughout your design process.
  • Structural engineers play a significant role in setting a mass timber project up for success. They should get some experience with and understanding of different construction types and fire-resistant readings, and understand how the timber elements can meet them.
  • Structural engineers can use mass timber as a differentiator in their business development strategy because at this point, it is still relatively new. Depending on which city you are in, you might be doing the first mass timber project there.
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More Details in This Episode…

About Ricky McLain, P.E., SE

Mass TimberRicky is WoodWorks’ in-house expert on tall wood buildings, providing analysis and guidance on architectural, fire, and life safety, and structural design topics related to tall mass timber projects. He supports the AEC community both directly and collaboratively with WoodWorks Regional Directors, and guides the development of education and resources related to tall wood buildings in the U.S. Prior to this emphasis, Ricky’s role encompassed all building types and wood systems. He also has extensive experience in lead engineer roles related to structural design, project management, and construction administration. Ricky is a very active member of numerous committees and councils related to building design, and is the Executive Director of the Structural Engineers Association of Vermont.


Connect with Ricky McLain on LinkedIn
2018 National Design Specification — American Wood Council

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Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on the benefits and common pitfalls of mass timber in structural engineering.

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To your success,

Matthew Picardal P.E. & Alexis Clark, P.E., M.ASCE
Hosts of The Structural Engineering Podcast

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Originally posted 2020-11-12 14:16:16.

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