Maximizing ROI: Achieving Added Height with Wood Framing is on the Up and Up thanks to New Building Code 02/06/20

By Haycon

When undertaking a building development in the expensive Boston real estate market, ensuring construction methods are at their most efficient is a critical aspect to maximizing return on investment. Utilization of wood framed construction for mid-rise buildings, typically constructed from steel or concrete, is on the rise. Literally. Current building code allows building a six story building with a base platform of steel or concrete, which typically means one story of concrete or steel and up to five stories of wood framing. As soon as this month, the new IBC (International Building Code) guidelines are anticipated to allow a change whereby a two-story steel or concrete platform is used to support an additional five stories of wood framing, totaling seven stories. Some developers have had success in the Boston area obtaining zoning variances presently given the impending change. The impact for developers looking to value engineer construction costs and maximize return on investment should prove significant.

1065 Tremont Street, a newly constructed wood-framed building built by Haycon.

Overall, the changes in regulation allow for more agile and expedient construction using wood framing. Generally, wood frame construction is faster and less expensive, as product is readily available. Wood is lighter than steel or concrete, and allows for more nimble platform design. A wider subcontractor base in the Boston area allows for cost comparison and lowered risk of schedule delays due to subcontractor availability.

Portside at East Pier Phase Two, a new wood-framed development under construction on the East Boston Waterfront.

Advances in construction technology further contribute to efficiencies in building Type 3 construction. For example, the increased availability in panelized floor and wall assemblies offers many benefits to developers. Pre-fabrication allows for higher quality control in a factory setting, not subject to weather delays. Panelized construction also reduces waste of material and results in less clean-up time on site.

40 Fisher Avenue, a wood-framed building under construction in Mission Hill.

Of course, no construction method is without some limitation. Use of wood framing in mid-rise construction lessens the amount of ‘clearspan’, or clear open space without structural columns or supports, versus the use of steel or concrete. This is less of a concern in residential applications. Further, close attention must also be paid to the Fire Rating of materials to meet stringent fire code requirements. Finally, insulation between floors should be carefully planned to limit noise transmission between units.

Landing 53, a wood-framed building under construction in Downtown Braintree.

As developers continue to incorporate green building techniques into Boston mid-rise construction, it is important to note the benefits of wood framing versus steel, concrete and masonry, which have a higher carbon footprint. In fact, timber construction has been touted by the Department of Agriculture as a “climate-change mitigation tool.” Wood is a renewable resource and, with responsible forestry methods in place, is a more sustainable product.

A 148-foot-tall wood-framed high-rise coming to Portland, Oregon.

For all these reasons, wood framed construction is on the up and up. Industry innovators in Architecture and Engineering are proposing more high-rise designs utilizing primarily wood framing. Just recently in Portland, Oregon, a 148-foot wood framed building was issued building permit, with many more wood high rises under consideration for future endeavors all over the United States and around the world.

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