Although the wood industry is a mainstay of the Canadian economy, revenues have been too narrowly based on products intended for construction and renovation of low-rise residential buildings. The wood industry views its expansion into the mid-rise residential and non-residential building market as the best means of increasing its contribution to the Canadian economy. This view is based on two recent developments. First, there is a renewed interest by design and building professionals to specify wood in the construction and renovation of mid-rise residential and non-residential buildings. Relative to other structural materials, wood products have many advantages, including reduced construction time; lighter weight (which minimizes foundation costs); and being a “green” carbon-neutral, low production energy option. The second development is related to recent changes in building codes to focus on presenting expected performance levels in buildings instead of prescriptive rules. This would give designers more opportunity to apply advanced design and construction concepts and methods, and to specify alternative materials.
The use of wood in expanded applications, especially in mid-rise buildings, has limited performance history. Developers, designers and building regulators are requesting supporting evidence that such structures meet building code performance requirements. To meet all the key building code objectives, construction technologies need to be developed that allow wood-based products to be used alone, or in combination with other structural materials in these applications. At the same time, new and sometimes more sophisticated analysis tools and design guidelines are required to allow building designers to predict and verify the structural, fire, serviceability and durability performance of these buildings.
The NSERC Strategic Network on Innovative Wood Products and Building Systems, also referred to as NEWBuildS, is investigating the use of traditional light-weight wood frame methods in mid-rise construction and heavier systems built with timber products, and innovative approaches that combine wood with other materials to create hybrid systems. NEWBuildS consists of 23 university professors from 11 Canadian universities, and 18 researchers from FPInnovations, National Research Council Canada and the Canadian Wood Council. These researchers—with architectural, structural, fire, serviceability, acoustic and durability expertise—will supervise close to 60 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. NSERC provides a total funding level of $5.3 million to the network over a five-year period starting in 2010. In-kind contributions are provided by the research partners listed above.
Research projects in the network are divided into four technical themes:
The vision of the network is to increase the use of wood-based products in mid-rise buildings for residential and non-residential purposes in Canada and other markets. Specific objectives of the network are:
The main outcome of NEWBuildS will be capacity building to support of the innovation needs of the wood industry. A key technical outcome of the network’s research will be the development of new and improved technical tools used by design engineers, researchers and product manufacturers to predict product and building system performances. These technical tools include sophisticated mathematical models based on first principles, applied engineering models, process models and experimental techniques. Designers and researchers will use the tools to predict responses of wood-based or hybrid building systems to structural strength and serviceability, fire and moisture loads. The tools will also help to develop and refine new engineered wood products such as “high-performance CLT.” It is also expected that new information generated by the NEWBuildS’ research will lead to changes in building codes and design standards, facilitating the use of wood in mid-rise and non-residential construction.