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Timber in the Circular Economy: Design for Deconstruction

Timber in the Circular Economy: Design for Deconstruction

Uncovering the Hidden Treasure in Our Buildings

Believe it or not, the key to a more sustainable future may be hiding right under our noses – or rather, within the very walls of the buildings we inhabit. As we strive to shift away from the old “take-make-waste” model towards a more circular economy, the humble timber frame is poised to take center stage.

You see, when it comes to building materials, wood has some pretty impressive eco-credentials. Not only is it a naturally renewable resource (hello, photosynthesis!), but it also has the unique ability to sequester carbon, effectively storing it away within its fibers. And the best part? This carbon-capturing potential doesn’t just end when the tree is harvested – it can continue to work its magic even after the wood has been transformed into a sturdy structural element or a sleek piece of furniture.

But the real magic happens when we start to think about timber buildings as more than just static structures. What if we could design them to be easily disassembled, with components that can be reused or repurposed time and time again? This is the essence of “design for deconstruction” (DfD) – a revolutionary approach that’s taking the construction industry by storm.

Breathing New Life into Old Buildings

Let me introduce you to the dynamic duo leading the charge in this timber-fueled revolution: Unbuilders and Heritage Lumber. These trailblazing companies are on a mission to divert tonnes of building materials from the landfill, and they’re starting with some of the most valuable resources around – the old-growth Douglas-fir and western red cedar beams that were once the backbone of our cities.

Take the Turners Dairy project in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, for example. When this century-old wood-frame building was earmarked for redevelopment, the team at Unbuilders didn’t just tear it down. Instead, they carefully disassembled it, salvaging those precious timber beams and joists for a whole new lease on life. And the results are nothing short of stunning – the reclaimed lumber has found a new home in the design-forward townhouses that now grace the site, its unique character and history adding a layer of charm that no freshly-milled board could ever replicate.

But the benefits of this approach extend far beyond the aesthetic. Remember that carbon-storing superpower I mentioned earlier? Well, it turns out that the embodied energy (that’s the energy used in the manufacturing and transportation of materials) in those salvaged beams is a mere fraction of what would be required to produce brand-new lumber. In fact, one study found that the reclaimed timber has around 12 times less embodied energy than its freshly-milled counterpart. Talk about a win-win for the planet!

Crafting a Circular Future, One Building at a Time

Of course, the Turners Dairy project is just the tip of the iceberg. Across British Columbia and beyond, a growing number of eco-conscious entrepreneurs are embracing the principles of the circular economy and putting them into practice. And the results are nothing short of inspiring.

Take the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, for example. Designed with a keen eye on reusability and adaptability, this impressive mass timber structure is essentially a giant “kit of parts” – one that can be easily disassembled and reassembled in a whole new configuration when its current life cycle comes to an end. It’s a testament to the incredible flexibility of wood as a building material, and a shining example of what’s possible when we think outside the traditional construction box.

But it’s not just about salvaging and reusing existing timber. The true power of the circular economy lies in its ability to transform the entire construction process, from the sourcing of raw materials to the way buildings are designed and built. And that’s exactly what companies like StructureCraft are doing.

At their state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in British Columbia, StructureCraft is pioneering new techniques that optimize the use of mass timber and engineered wood products, reducing waste and emissions at every turn. Their industrial building, for instance, was designed as a fully demountable structure, with the entire timber superstructure erected in just one week. It’s a level of efficiency and adaptability that simply wouldn’t be possible with more traditional building methods.

Connecting the Dots, One Project at a Time

Of course, shifting to a truly circular economy isn’t without its challenges. It requires a level of coordination and collaboration that can sometimes feel daunting. But the good news is that the building industry in British Columbia and beyond is rising to the occasion, with a growing number of projects and teams that are demonstrating the power of this holistic approach.

Take the team behind the 1 Lonsdale Avenue project in North Vancouver, for example. By working together across disciplines – from architecture and engineering to construction and passive house design – they were able to leverage the latest digital tools and techniques to create a building that not only maximizes the use of renewable timber, but also sets a new standard for energy efficiency and airtightness.

And it’s not just about the technical aspects. The circular economy also demands a fundamental shift in the way we think about the entire lifecycle of a building. As Paul Shorthouse, managing director of Circular Economy Leadership Canada, explains, “It’s about extracting raw resources with the entire life cycle in mind. It’s thinking in a more regenerative way about how you can build products and assets so they last longer, are more durable and repairable over time.”

A Forest of Opportunity

This is where British Columbia’s rich timber resources really start to shine. With our sustainably managed forests and growing expertise in mass timber construction, we’re positioned to play a pivotal role in shaping a more circular future for the building industry. And the best part? By reducing our reliance on energy-intensive and non-renewable materials, we can not only cut waste and emissions, but also stimulate the growth of greener jobs right here at home.

So, as we continue to navigate the challenges of the 21st century, let’s keep our eyes peeled for the hidden treasure that lies within our built environment. Because when it comes to creating a more sustainable, circular future, the answer might just be as close as the trees in our own backyard.

Discover more thought-provoking content on timber design, construction, and forestry at Timber-Building.com

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