Toronto’s housing crisis and the global climate crisis are major challenges that intertwine in more ways than first meets the eye. CreateTO is taking on a project that would tackle both with their mass timber pilot program that would create the city’s first timber residential building. This use of mass timber, which includes engineered wood instead of steel or concrete, has the potential to be a transformative force in Toronto’s development scene.

UrbanToronto spoke with Vic Gupta, CEO at CreateTO, to learn more about this exciting pilot project. He shared with us the important policy objectives they focused on for this project that ideally everyone in the industry should strive for: “environmental benefits, more affordable housing, [and] more housing in general.”

Mid-rise typology for mass timber construction, image from submission to City of Toronto

The site for the pilot project is 1113 through 1117 Dundas Street West, near the southeast corner with Ossington Avenue, which is just steps away from Trinity Bellwoods Park. It was chosen in part for being ideal for being a mid-rise site with a typology favouring mass timber.

Brock Commons at UBC Vancouver, an example of mass timber construction, image from submission to City of Toronto

Given the limited space of 1113-1117 Dundas Street West, a traditional concrete construction would have proved challenging. With more constrained sites such as these in urban markets, mass timber construction means developers can build in areas that would otherwise be unviable for conventional construction.

Looking south to the subject site, image retrieved from Google Street View

CreateTO’s report highlights the many environmental benefits of mass timber. The materials mean embodied carbon intensity would be reduced by more than 40%. This is in line with Toronto’s ambitious climate objectives, and far closer to those goals than concrete construction.

Part of the pilot program involved weighing the benefits of bringing the construction from Toronto Green Standard Tier 1 to Tier 3. Vic Gupta stressed the importance of reaching the latter, as “Tier 3 is really as close to net-zero [carbon emissions] as we can get.” The pilot study notes that the small premium of approximately 3.0% for mid and high-rises to hit that ambitious goal.

An aerial view of the subject site and surrounding area, image retrieved from Google Maps

The study contains other environmental measures to potentially include to reach that near net-zero target. These include solar powering and triple-glazed windows, along with geothermal, which is gaining traction in the GTA. There is “a pretty strong industry here for geothermal” according to Vic Gupta. Enwave Energy Corporation, a global leader in the industry, partnered with the City of Toronto back in 2018 to help deliver energy systems across the city.

The first three phases in the construction sequence, image from submission to City of Toronto

Along with the environmental positives, mass timber is poised to offer massive benefits for affordable housing. The site would have otherwise struggled with the level of affordability that CreateTO is aiming for with their Housing Now program. The reduced cost and construction time would mean there would be funds available for far more affordable housing units. For a 10-storey building, the pilot study concluded that there would be an additional cost of 9.75% to go with concrete construction as opposed to mass timber.

The final two phases in the construction sequence, image from submission to City of Toronto

These numbers are expected to further favour mass timber as time goes on. “As more and more [developers] take it up, there will be more supply,” Vic Gupta predicted, and this would mean “levelling out of pricing and more predictability of pricing.” Looking further into the future, the pilot program also examines the typology for a taller building made of mass timber, modelled on 150 Queens Wharf.

High-rise typology for mass timber construction, image from submission to City of Toronto

The next steps include advancing the rezoning for the subject site, as well as reporting on the business case in the first quarter of 2024. From there, the plan is to have an opportunity to advance a market offering for the building.

With mounting pressure to bring more residential units to market, and conventional construction costs still high even in this period of slow construction, Vic Gupta believes that the future is very bright for this type of build. The technology's environmental impacts, vastly reduced construction time, and ability to put more people into more homes are the compelling arguments put forth in the pilot program. 

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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