Benefits of Building Schools with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)

Mass Timber Buildings

Is Wood the Future of New School Construction?

“Supporters hail mass timber’s potential: the ability to speed up construction timelines in an industry plagued by inefficiencies; less environmental wear and tear; an attractive visual aesthetic; and the economic contribution of skilled jobs in an emerging industry.” They’re also quick to note wood construction at this scale is not new — and that mass timber is different from the assemblages of two-by-fours and plywood that frame American homes.” –educationdive.com

By now, you might have heard us rave about the benefits of building with mass timber. Building with engineered wood products like cross-laminated wood (CLT) has soared in popularity in recent years across the country, specifically in educational settings, and it’s no wonder! Studies show CLT can improve health and well-being, and offer more design flexibility, durability, fire resistance, as well as multiple environmental benefits. Now that students are heading back to school, we thought we’d look at the advantages of building schools with cross-laminated timber (CLT).  

Simple, Quick Construction

One of the greatest advantages of cross-laminated timber (CLT) is the speed of installation. Cross-Laminated Timber panels are lightweight and arrive at site with a structural system ready to be assembled. The process is both simple and swift, allowing immediate and accurate construction, which in turn saves time and money. 

Durability

The alternating fibers in CLT make it a lightweight, yet strong and durable building material. In Japan, a seven-story CLT building’s durability in an earthquake scenario was tested through fourteen shake-tests and came out with minimal damage. Airtight construction of each panel and precision fitting leads to seismic resilience, as does its unique strength-to-weight ratio.

Fire-Resistant

Though it may sound strange to tout fire resistance as a benefit of a wooden building material, it’s one of Cross-Laminated Timber’s greatest strengths. The lamination of CLT has inherent fire resistance, and the construction of the panels and structures allows little room for fire to breathe and expand. 

Sustainability

Another advantage to building with Cross-Laminated Timber is its light carbon footprint. CLT stores more carbon than is emitted in its manufacture and transport. It continues to store carbon absorbed by the tree while growing, keeping it out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the building. Mass timber is the only building material that can be regrown and feasible in the long-term. Precision cutting of CLT minimizes on-site waste, and its manufacturing requires less energy than producing steel or concrete. 

Acoustic Insulation

Solid wood paneling provides superior acoustic insulation, dampening both airborne and impact noises. Its lightweight nature also leads to quiet construction, making it ideal for schools and college campuses. 

Thermal Insulation

In the same way that Cross-Laminated Timber’s airtight design creates auditory insulation, it also creates thermal insulation. Tightly packed panels can trap 90% of the heat that would ordinarily escape from a home. CLT’s previously-mentioned high thermal mass ensures temperatures are kept stable and comfortable.

Pleasing Aesthetic

There’s a warm, soothing visual quality to building with wood that separates it from the lifeless concrete slabs that typically fill a city. The term “biophilia” describes the soothing effect that natural materials have on humans. Studies suggest that natural building materials like Cross-Laminated Timber can help lower stress in students and teachers and increase productivity. 

Affordable

When comparing the manufacturing costs of certain steels and concrete, as well as the money saved on shorter construction time, CLT comes out as at a competitive

Examples of Schools Using Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) Architecture

These examples of cross-laminated timber (CLT) architecture in educational settings demonstrate why CLT is an excellent alternative for more conventional building materials like steel and concrete.

Franklin Elementary School- Franklin, West Virginia 
When Franklin, West Virginia needed a new elementary school, the small, rural community decided to try something that no other school district had undertaken in this country: build with cross laminated timber (CLT). The decision to build with CLT has paid off in dividends! Learn more by reading the case study. 

Andy Quattlebaum Outdoor Recreation Center – Clemson University, SC  
Brian Campa, principal at the architecture firm that designed the outdoor rec center on the campus of Clemson University, says he chose CLT as a building material for its ability to achieve long spans and lower cost of the material. Campa also lauds CLT for its significant sustainable advantages, including a lower carbon footprint. The aesthetically pleasing building intentionally connects visitors of the building with nature. “These biophilic elements are emphasized to encourage student wellness, activity, and interaction. We believe the center will become a hub for those looking for an on-campus escape,” says Campa. Read more.

Idaho Central Credit Union Arena – Moscow, Idaho
Construction for this 4,000-plus capacity arena on the University of Idaho campus is well underway on this first-of-its-kind engineered wood mass-timber facility. The versatile, visually stunning ICCU Arena will open in fall 2021 and will be the new home for Vandal men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as a gathering place for academic events, concerts and other special events. Read more.

Sequim School District – Sequim, Washington
School district leaders in this small Washington community felt the speed of construction and environmental and economic advantages made cross-laminated timber (CLT) an ideal building material for modular classrooms in a pilot project.  Read more

Here are some additional examples of more U.S. & Canadian schools who use mass timber in their construction. 

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