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Net Zero & High Performance Prefab Wood Construction

Mass Timber Building (Photo Credit: Province of BC)

Renewable Cities has been awarded a contract by B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation to help characterize and solve the biggest local government barriers to mid-rise, mass timber construction: land use policies.

Renewable Cities has assembled an interdisciplinary team involving Gary Penway, former City of North Vancouver Director of Planning, Norm Coutie, former President of leading mass timber developer Adera, Catherine Ernst, a former prefab designer and building inspector now with the Building Officials Association of BC, and Helen Goodland, a leading architect and thought leader in transformative solutions to construction. Brad Doff of Renewable Cities is managing this new initiative and ED, Alex Boston, is playing an active advisory role. Both have worked with local governments, utilities and building industry advancing decarbonization policy on new and existing buildings. The team will engage with a score of municipalities across B.C. that are piloting mass timber buildings up to 12 storeys.

This project is part of broader program to advance high performance, prefabricated, low embodied carbon materials, of which mass timber will be a central material in taller construction. It will be impossible to achieve net zero new construction at scale without shifting a growing share onto the assembly line where quality and cost can be effectively managed. This challenge will be exacerbated by growing workforce constraints. Prefabricated construction of exterior, high efficiency panels is also expected to deliver significant cost savings and technical contributions to deep building energy and carbon retrofits in Canada, as it has in the Energiesprong retrofit agendas in the Netherlands, UK and France.

Prefab construction has the potential to create diverse, secure jobs in forest-based communities to meet domestic and international market demand for sustainable, net zero, low-embodied carbon buildings. If this industry is to grow, it will have to incorporate diverse building materials and optimize wood use to ensure it supports forest sustainability and confronts the challenge of declining forest fibre quality and quantity.

The earliest stages of this program will focus on solving land use policy and permitting processes that inadvertently obstruct prefabricated and mass timber construction. The team will be engaging with building officials, planners, developers, manufacturers and local and provincial policy analysts.

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