Wood Construction Drives Down Cost for Mid-Rise Buildings

Finding a way to save on major purchases without compromising on quality is a top priority for most consumers, especially on big ticket items such as a home. Enter mid-rise wood construction. Driving down the costs for homebuilders and buyers alike, wood mid-rise encompasses buildings that are five and six-storeys – showing incredible value for the consumer and gaining momentum across the country as a result.

The Ontario government’s recent decision to propose amendments to the Ontario Building Code to allow the use of wood in the construction of buildings up to six-storeys, an increase from the current four, provides a new code-compliant construction option for builders that will result in safe, more affordable homes for Ontario residents, with an immediate positive impact on the local economy.

The decision is the result of a lengthy, research-driven process that has involved a great deal of consultation and input from all stakeholders, including Ontario’s building industry, which encourages innovation and excellence in the development of sustainable communities.
As was done in BC in 2009, it’s time to equal the playing field for all construction materials, not only in Ontario but across Canada. Ontario’s amended Building Code, will allow for new and innovative wood-based buildings that meet the same health and safety standards as buildings built with any other material.

“It is good urban planning and makes economic sense for neighbourhoods and families,” said Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) President and CEO Bryan Tuckey. “It also reduces our carbon footprint, is safe, durable, aesthetically appealing, and it represents a major step in achieving planned intensification goals of the provincial Places to Grow legislation.”

Building Code-compliant construction options increase, construction costs go down and home affordability goes up. What’s not to like?

Changes made to the British Columbia Building Code in 2009 had an immediate impact on the local economy. With B.C. as the tried and true example, now more than 150 buildings have either been built, are in the design phase or are under construction. “Similarly, Ontario will see huge benefits by using wood in mid-rise construction. This fits into many communities’ urban densification plans providing design and building alternatives that are cost effective and beneficial to the local construction industry,” stated Marianne Berube, Executive Director of Wood WORKS! Ontario.

Cost savings here do not imply lesser quality. The estimated cost savings on a 1,000-square-foot apartment or business suite could be 12 per cent or more when these substantial savings are passed through the system, resulting in a more affordable condo or rental unit.

Safety concerns around adding more wood to a mid-rise building are not an issue, as some inaccurately suggest. With research support from organizations such as FPInnovations and the National Research Council, the structural, seismic and fire performance of these buildings allows Building Codes to be met easily.

In fact, research shows that the number of fire incidents does not increase with wood construction according to a study by BILD and the Residential Construction Council of Ontario called, Mid-rise Combustible Construction in Ontario – Building Code Issues. The study cites data collected by the National Fire Incident Reporting System which shows that fire incidents are not related to the type of construction, but instead to the use and occupancy of the building. Above this, the 2015 Model National Fire Code adds new requirements for five and six-storey wood mid-rise buildings, including the increased use of sprinklers – making wood mid-rise buildings amongst the safest of any building type to build and occupy.

What’s more, the National Fire Code and regulations in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act contain many provisions for construction projects that address potential fire hazards and provide solutions to reduce risks.

Homebuilders and buyers should look forward to this innovative new mid-rise building market created by Ontario’s new and improved building code. Wood mid-rise equals cost savings, along with a safe, strong and sophisticated form of construction. Now there’s something we can feel good about taking to the bank.

Michael GirouxMichael Giroux is President of the Canadian Wood Council