UrbanToronto is celebrating Earth Month throughout April with features that examine the issues and challenges of sustainability in the development industry.

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It took some time to get here, but the use of sustainable materials in construction is proving to be cost-effective and economically beneficial in the long term and most experts in the development industry see this continuing. The move to sustainable construction is growing in popularity and one of the most popular materials is the use of mass timber in buildings. It can be manufactured off-site and assembled on-site, bringing products to market faster and is much more environmentally friendly than concrete or steel.

A leading voice for incorporating mass timber as an economic benefit for sustainability in construction is Don Manlapaz, Partner at Leader Lane Developments. In partnership with Windmill Development Group, Leader Lane currently has three projects in its pipeline using mass timber in its construction, Hälsa, two projects on Royal York Road, and a 12-storey building at Bloor and Jane, with the first project to begin construction this fall.

Looking west to 230 Royal York Road, designed by LWPAC Architects for Leader Lane Developments and Windmill Development Group Ltd

“We could be on the dawn of a new era as the marketplace is experimenting with the mass timber approach in development,” says Manlapaz. “One of the biggest benefits is financial due to time compression. Because mass timber elements can be manufactured off-site and then installed on-site, construction times for some modest multi-storey buildings can be shortened from six months to 10 weeks in some cases.”

Within this mass timber era has emerged a modular wood revolution, building more affordable wood buildings for sustainable, human-scale neighbourhoods, led by such companies as Assembly Corp. It has been successful doing this because quite simply, the market is there.

“We need to start building infrastructure that is good for people and good for the planet because unfortunately, our built environment is a significant contributor to the climate crisis,” says Assembly Corp. CEO Geoff Cape. “These sentiments are shared by the industry and general public as more than 80% of Canadians want action on climate change. Sustainability is core to our DNA as a company and our mission is to build sustainable living solutions.”

“Wood is our primary building material and the only renewable one available,” says Francesca MacKinnon, Director of Sales and Marketing at Assembly. “Its value lies in its operational efficiency, carbon footprint and in its biophilic properties. It’s not only sustainable to work with, but it feels good to live in. Using our prefabricated mass timber approach provides housing to those that need it most, faster than traditional alternatives. Using a prefabricated method reduces time, errors and waste on site. Increasing our level of completion off-site is equally important as it allows us to build in a controlled environment. Assembly is able to achieve 20-50% in time savings and 15-20% in cost savings using a prefab modular wood approach.”

Looking west to 430 Royal York Road, designed by CMV Group architects for Leader Lane Developements and Windmill Development Group Ltd

Evidence that sustainable materials in construction are here to stay can be found in a 125,000 ft² manufacturing facility built for mass timber manufacturer Element5 that opened in December 2020 in St Thomas, which represented an investment of $50 million by the company.

“The growth and excitement in the mass timber industry was apparent and placing a manufacturing facility in Southern Ontario was an opportunity to fill a geographical gap in the market,” says Lee Scott, Manager, Sales for Canada and the USA for Element5. “The St Thomas facility is perfectly situated to serve the GTA, Ontario, the Midwest, and the entire eastern seaboard of the United States, which is a huge potential customer base. Prior to Element5, that market would only have been served by manufacturers in Europe, the West Coast, or Northern Quebec.”

The market is taking to mass timber as a sustainable material in construction because the end users love the aesthetics of the exposed wood, the general contractors see the advantage in the speed at which buildings can be erected and everyone benefits from using a natural, sustainable, renewable resource which has a lower impact on the environment. “If the design is efficient, mass timber buildings are cost-competitive with traditional methods, but you are getting a much better building for the money. It’s win, win,” says Scott.

Looking south to 2453-2469 Bloor Street West, designed by BDP Quadrangle for Leader Lane Developments and Windmill Development Group Ltd

Economically, wood is also proving its long-term benefits in construction. “Looking at the materials though, the wood may cost more than concrete or steel, but you are potentially saving on drywall in areas where the wood is exposed and there are savings for using less concrete for foundations due to wood being a lightweight material,” says Scott. “Also, the savings in the construction schedule translates into real dollars, especially at a time where interest rates are high and therefore construction financing is costly.”

Environmentally and economically, wood is making better sense in using sustainable materials in construction, while at the same time, it is also proving popular to designers. “We’re also seeing more of the design community get behind mass timber and this gives developers options,” observes Scott. “Designs are also getting more efficient and we’re continuing to advance technologies to bring costs down further. Expect to see many more mass timber buildings in the near and distant future.”

Development in any form obviously must make economic sense to move forward. Sustainable construction approaches and materials now being adopted are not only the right thing to do in the bigger picture but are now proven to make the most sense to the bottom line.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.​

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Thank you to the companies joining UrbanToronto to celebrate Earth Month.


Related Companies:  Aercoustics Engineering Ltd, ASPECT Structural Engineers, BDP Quadrangle, Bousfields, Crozier & Associates Consulting Engineers, EQ Building Performance Inc., LEA Consulting, Leader Lane Developments, Multiplex, RWDI Climate and Performance Engineering, VIP Condos Toronto