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Advantages of CLT buildings

Design flexibility: It is relatively easy to increase the thickness of a CLT panel to allow for longer spans requiring fewer interior support elements. Manufacturers use CNC equipment to cut panels and openings to exact specifications, often to meet very tight tolerances (within millimeters). Plus, when field modifications are needed, they can be made with simple tools.

Thermal performance and energy efficiency: CLT’s thermal performance is determined by its U-value, or coefficient of heat transfer, which relates to panel thickness. Thicker panels have lower U-values; they are better insulators and therefore require less insulation. Since CLT panels can be manufactured using CNC equipment to precise tolerances, panel joints also fit tighter, which results in better energy efficiency for the structure. Because the panels are solid, there is little potential for airflow through the system. As a result, interior temperatures of a finished CLT structure can be maintained with just one-third the normally required heating or cooling energy.

Cost effectiveness: In a 2010 study by FPInnovations, researchers compared the cost of CLT versus certain concrete, masonry and steel building types. While the advantages of faster construction time and lower foundation costs were not accounted for, the estimated cost of a U.S.-built CLT structure was found to be particularly competitive for mid-rise residential (15 percent less), mid-rise non-residential (15 to 50 percent less), low-rise educational (15 to 50 percent less), low-rise commercial (25 percent less), and one-story industrial buildings (10 percent less).

Environmental advantages: Manufactured using wood from sustainably managed forests, CLT provides a number of environmental benefits in addition to its excellent thermal performance. Wood is the only major building material that grows naturally and is renewable, and life cycle assessment studies consistently show that wood outperforms steel and concrete in terms of embodied energy, air pollution and water pollution. It also has a lighter carbon footprint—because wood products continue to store carbon absorbed by the trees while growing, and wood manufacturing requires less energy and results in less greenhouse gas emissions.

Less waste: CLT panels are manufactured for specific enduse applications, which results in little to no job site waste. Plus, manufacturers can reuse fabrication scraps for stairs and other architectural elements, or as biofuel.

Fast installation: Because panels are prefabricated, erection time is greatly reduced, which improves efficiency and results in lower capital costs and faster occupancy. Wall, floor and roof elements can be pre-cut, including openings for doors, windows, stairs, service channels and ducts. Insulation and finishes can also be applied prior to installation, reducing demand for skilled workers on site.

Fire protection: CLT’s thick cross-section provides valuable fire resistance because panels char slowly. Once formed, char protects the wood from further degradation. When used in Type IV construction, CLT assemblies also have fewer concealed spaces, which reduces a fire’s ability to spread undetected. In addition, CLT offers increased compartmentalization if used for interior walls.

Seismic performance: Because of their dimensional stability and rigidity, CLT panels create an effective lateral load resisting system. Researchers have conducted extensive seismic testing on CLT and found panels to perform exceptionally well with no residual deformation, particularly in multi-story applications. In Japan, for example, a seven-story CLT building was tested on the world’s largest shake table. It survived 14 consecutive seismic events with almost no damage. CLT also offers good ductile behavior and energy dissipation.

Acoustic performance: Test results show that because the mass of the wall contributes to acoustic performance, CLT building systems provide adequate noise control for both airborne and impact sound transmission. CLT building systems offer additional acoustic benefits because builders use sealant and other types of membranes to provide air tightness and improve sound insulation at the interfaces between the floor and wall plates.

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