News / Toronto

Wood construction still lagging in Toronto, despite rule change

Ontario allowed taller wood buildings back in 2015, but developers are still struggling to source some wood products locally.

Called ‘lumber on steroids’ access to cross-laminated timber, like this, is one thing that’s snarling wood-frame building market in Toronto.

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Called ‘lumber on steroids’ access to cross-laminated timber, like this, is one thing that’s snarling wood-frame building market in Toronto.

Few developers are taking advantage of new Ontario rules that allow for taller wood-frame buildings.

The reason? They can’t find the right wood.

In Toronto, Heartwood the Beach will be one of the first condo projects to be built under the new rules, which allow for six-storey wood buildings instead of the previous four storeys. To realize their design vision for the 37-unit, east-end building, Quadrangle Architects are using cross-laminated timber, a newer product that’s a key component of taller wood structures.

“It’s like lumber on steroids,” said Quadrangle’s Marco VanderMaas, a leading Canadian expert on wood-frame design.

Unfortunately, cross-laminated timber is not available in Ontario and has to be sourced from Quebec or British Columbia.

“If you have to pay a premium to get the material from A to B, that cost has to be factored in,” VanderMaas said, suggesting the 15 to 20 per cent savings associated with wood-frame construction haven’t materialized yet.

When the province lifted the four-storey cap on wooden buildings last year, the change was heralded as a way to alleviate pressure on Toronto’s housing market by allowing infill to be built quickly and affordably.

The cost incentive for more wood-frame construction may not be here yet, but Steven Street, manager at Ontario Wood Works, believes it will be soon. Once more projects like Heartwood come online, he said local manufacturers will respond to the demand.

“The catalyst is there to set up operations in our own province,” he said. “And once something is locally manufactured, costs in theory will come down.”

Construction on Heartwood is slated to start in the spring. VanderMaas is confident he’ll be able to source Ontario-made cross-laminated timber by the summer.

“This is a great opportunity for local manufacturers to step up,” he said.