Ed Geric, of Mike Geric Construction, believes mass timber is the natural progression for construction on the Island. Spruce talks to him about the material’s strengths and benefits, and why his company is using it for their new condo project.
by Carla Sorrell
Ed Geric is steering his family business in the course set by his late father, the company’s founder, Mike Geric. He has just broken ground on the first of two buildings that make up the Tresah development — named after the phonetic pronunciation of his mother Theresa’s name in her native Slovenian language.
Tresah is one of Vancouver Island’s first 12-storey residential condo mid-rises, providing 179 homes, made from mass timber. This material has been recognized internationally for its strength and design flexibility and is used to build high-density housing at speed.
In Europe, where the technology has existed for much longer, there are 40- to 50-storey mass timber buildings. For Geric, using mass timber is the logical next step for the company.
After moving from Winnipeg, his father started as a single-home builder and was one of the first builders on Vancouver Island to build to six storeys when code changed about six or seven years ago.
“The progression from a six-storey building in regular wood to a twelve-storey in technically wood — mass timber— was a natural progression for us,” says Geric. “We’re wood guys; we really love the wood side of it.”
Mass timber was brought to Geric’s attention a few years ago by Kinsol Timber, who were using it for small structures. He visited Portland, Oregon, which Geric thinks is “probably the leading city on the West Coast in terms of constructing and mass timber. I saw a number of projects, and just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the esthetics of it.
What is mass timber?
The actual mass timber is basically solid or composite wood material. And when I say composite, that means existing wood products, such as dimensional lumber board panels, that are bound together in an engineered process.
How strong is the material?
Two of the most popular mass timber products are cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glulam (glued laminated) timbers. Glulams are mainly used for posts and beams, CLT is mainly used for the floor systems. When it’s put together every layer of wood is in a different direction, so that they span multi-directionally, whereas most lumber usually spans in one direction.
What are its environmental benefits?
It sucks in carbon from the air. It’s a wood product, and that’s what trees do in their natural environment — absorb and sequester carbon. Trees actually don’t produce carbon, they inherently suck carbon in, so to have a product that does that is very green and very sustainable. For every condo we build out of mass timber, it has taken a car off the road for life.
Where does the wood come from?
One-hundred per cent of the product that we’re using in the Tresah building is B.C. lumber. We’re very supportive of the B.C. economy, using this product. A lot of the mass timber uses the old pine beetle forest that couldn’t be used in dimensional lumber.
How do the building codes address mass timber?
The 2020 National Building Code of Canada now has a specific section for mass timber, allowing mass timber buildings up to 12 storeys. That’s just happened in the last year, and building codes are catching up. All provincial building codes, when they go for review, will now incorporate the National Building Code.
What are its build benefits?
It has a lower cost of construction because mass timber can be erected very quickly. The components that go into a building are built off site. It’s done in very climate-controlled environments, so it’s delivered all in proportion. It’s like a Lego block — it’s delivered and then it’s assembled. It’s faster, quieter and less disruptive to the neighbourhood.
Typically, I can do a 10,000-square-foot floor in a week, whereas in concrete that may take a month. To deliver timely, that just saves money. The weight of mass timber [a third of the weight of concrete and steel] enables us to build with lighter impact on the foundations and on the ground. I need less cement, I need less steel. I can use a third to two-thirds less piles and concrete drilling down.
Does it require more preplanning?
Yes. You’re initially doing everything during the preplanning: the coordination with all the other consultants(envelope, electrical, structural). The benefit is that things like electrical outlets, chases, conduits or anything that needs to be drilled in can all be done prior to delivery.
How does it respond to earthquakes and fire?
Seismically, mass timber is much better. It weighs less than steel and concrete. In an earthquake, less weight above ground is better and more resilient to any damage. The material has a little bit more flexibility. Concrete buildings are not great in earthquakes: they’ll crack, they’ll crumble and you need to tear down that whole building. With mass timber you can reuse all those components of that building.
Mass timber has a fantastic fire rating, which seems weird when you think it’s wood. Because it’s a mass piece of wood, they only char from the outside. It forms an impermeable layer; you can’t penetrate in the interior of that mass timber. Once you reach a level of toughness of three-quarters to an inch, it will not burn anymore.
What are the barriers to use?
Initially some of the barriers were its acceptance by buyers. It’s new, so we’ve had to teach people about mass timber; we could tell them the benefits and all that before they’ll even think about putting money down to buy a place. I was a little bit surprised how quickly we gained the acceptance.
What are the experiential qualities of living in a mass timber building?
Studies have found that the presence of wood elements reconnects you with nature, reduces stress and supports creative thinking. One of the benefits of exposed wood is really the wellness and well-being of someone living in a wood-exposed condo. It’s a stress reliever.
How hard was it to expose the raw material?
One of our challenges has been to try to get as much of the wood exposed. You are balancing fire rating, sound proofing, encapsulation, and where you run piping. [In Tresah] we’ve been able to get at least 60 to 70 percent exposed elements — I wouldn’t have done it if it was 100 per cent encapsulated.
Is Tresah an important landmark for Vancouver Island?
It will be, absolutely. There are other mass timber buildings being built, a couple on Vancouver Island, but they’re mostly institutional, two-storey builds. We are the first ones doing the residential 12-storey mass timber building. We’re at the forefront, and once we do this and we pull it off, there’s going to be a lot of other people lined up ready to go.