Check it Out: Is Cross Laminated Timber the “Concrete of the Future” or Just a Design Trend?

a school built with cross laminated timberShutterstock/ Ville heikkinen

What is Cross Laminated Timber?

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a wood panel building product typically made from layers of kiln-dried lumber boards that are laminated together in alternating directions and glued with adhesives to form a rectangular panel. The alternating arrangement of the boards makes CLT very strong and gives it increased structural stability.

First developed in Germany in the early 1990’s, CLT first became popular across Europe as it was used to create striking all-lumber structures. Since then cross-laminated timber has slowly but surely made its way across the pond. The building material was first incorporated into the National Design Specification for wood construction in 2015, which led to CLT being recognized as a code-compliant building material in the United States.

Shutterstock/ PHG Pictures

What are the Advantages of Building With CLT?

Cross-laminated timber offers many unique advantages to both builders and designers. CLT panels are prefabricated and delivered to jobsites with pre-cut openings for doors, windows, stairs, and ducts. Currently, CLT can be used to build entire structures or as walls, floors, ceilings and other long spans. Unlike precast concrete, CLT can be modified on the job. The ability to combine CLT with other materials gives architects much more freedom and flexibility with their designs. 

Even though cross-laminated timer is delivered to jobsites as large, single components, it is still relatively lightweight compared to other structural building materials. Coming in such large pieces also means that CLT structures take less time to construct because there are less joints between components.

Could CLT Replace Structural Concrete?

Probably not… but it is a much more environmentally friendly alternative.

Building and design advantages aside, one of the main reasons that CLT has gained traction as a building material is its significantly low environmental impact. Producing one ton of concrete emits an equal amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while cross-laminated timber actively sequesters carbon. As cities move to lower the amount of greenhouse gases caused by the construction of new buildings, CLT could provide an alternative to concrete that is much less harmful to the environment.

However, change comes slowly in the construction industry, and CLT is still fairly expensive and not readily available in all parts of the country. For now, cross-laminated timber remains an intriguing building material and a striking design element that is worth keeping an eye on as building practices continue to evolve.