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Wood High-Rise Debate Rages Ahead of ICC Vote

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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The International Code Council is weeks away from voting on whether to allow construction of wood buildings up to 18 stories, and the debate is far from settled.

Met with industry opposition from groups such as the Portland Cement Association, as well as the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the council will have a lot to sift through before its annual conference in October.

© iStock.com / mtreasure

The International Code Council is weeks away from voting on whether to allow construction of wood buildings up to 18 stories and the debate is far from settled.

Following the conference, a public comment hearing and an online voting period will determine the verdict for the proposed new ruling.

Code Concerns

ICC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings, which was formed to investigate the science and safety surrounding tall wood building construction approved several proposals in April but said that it was still working on addressing concerns.

In terms of those concerns, the PCA conducted a nationwide poll that found that 74 percent of its respondents think it’s a bad idea to allow high-rise construction using wood. In addition, 74 percent said that they would feel uncomfortable doing business in a building that was build using wood products.

When given the optional space to explain why they felt that way, respondents gave the following breakdown:

  • Wood is less strong than other building materials like steel and concrete, it’s not as sturdy or durable and could break (52 percent);
  • Wood is more flammable, more likely to burn, and presents a greater fire hazard (31 percent); and
  • Wood is more susceptible to weather damage and weather events (including earthquakes and hurricanes), it is less safe and will decompose or rot faster than other materials (18 percent).

In August, the committee released a response document to address 16 specific concerns, most notably the issue of safeguarding the building while its under construction, which was referred to as “stick-built” construction.

“It is important to note, that the term 'stick built' does not describe what is presented by the mass timber structure,” the response says. “There are no light-weight wood elements permitted within these buildings.

“While the term 'stick-built' may be representative of current Type III and V construction buildings, one should not confuse mass timber buildings with light-frame wood buildings. The committee carefully examined the difference in behavior of mass timber compared to wood frame in response to fire. Note that proposed mass timber buildings exceeding the allowable height for current Type IV-HT require the extensive use of noncombustible material to be applied directly to the surface of combustible building elements.”


Tagged categories: Building codes; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; ICC; Regulations

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