We’ve seen the future of wood-frame construction in Ontario. It's 6,300 kilometres northeast in Scandinavia.
A team of RESCON staff and builder members are in Sweden – and when it comes to innovative residential construction, this country of 9.7 million punches above its weight. Especially with mid-rise wood-frame building.
This is important to our industry in Ontario because of the change to the Ontario Building Code that occurred on Jan. 1 this year when the limit of wood-frame buildings was raised from four storeys to six.
Strandparken's six-storey wood-frame condo.
While this wood-frame only makes up about 10 per cent of all Swedish residential construction, the projects that they have created since 1994 (starting at four storeys) are amazing. And the condo community of Strandparken, which we visited today, is a great example of that.
Strandparken is comprised of Sweden’s largest residential building made almost entirely of wood. It has two mid-rise towers: one is eight storeys high, the other is six. It is the pride of the city of Sundbyberg, just northeast of the capital, Stockholm. Architects, engineers, builders and politicians visit the site almost every day since it opened last year to learn how Sweden has made this brave leap into a new form of construction. As we approached the front office entrance, our group happily breathed in the familiar fragrance of the Canadian cedar tiles covering the condo’s exterior.
A closeup of those wonderful Canadian cedar tiles on the wall of Strandparken's eight-storey building.
Swedish builder Folkhem has a vision to be the world’s leading wooden housing builder, and a desire to create a cleaner and better environment. Folkhem only builds homes with wood.
Executive Kenneth Wilen says that there is one way for the team of Toronto-area builders surrounding him to get the GTA public more invested and educated in mid-rise wood-frame construction.
“To sell the wooden homes, you have to explain the environmental part of it to buyers,” he says plainly, later adding: “Focus on time and overall capital costs.”
Here’s partly how Folkhem sold the concept to Sweden’s very green-minded homebuyers: the builder aims for its wooden condos to create a negative impact of carbon dioxide emissions. The actual production of Strandparken's eight-storey tower caused 600 tons of carbon dioxide, but that's offset by the breathability of the materials, a process called "binding," which offsets the production by using 1,600 tons of CO2.
Total carbon emissions for Strandparken: minus-1,000 tons. Folkhem says that performance exceeds that of an equal-sized building made with concrete, which causes 1,200 tons of emissions. That's a difference of 2,200 tons.
Meanwhile, Strandparken has saved 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide for Sundbyberg, says its builder.
And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will – Folkhem say people moved into Strandparken seven months after construction began, eight months before mid-rise towers made of concrete and/or steel down the street were ready for occupancy.
Then there’s the esthetic appeal. That wonderful cedar smell greets us again on the spacious, all-wood balcony of the Strandparken three-bedroom model home; the kitchen walls and counter are made of wood; the walls in the hallway are made of wood; the quiet, spruce floor systems have radiant heating as warm water is piped through them. It has a very breathable, modern-day cottage vibe.
WAIT TIMES CUT IN HALF
And while the wait time for homebuyers is cut in half, there is an obvious disadvantage for wood builds in Sundbyberg. The capital cost up front for wood builds like Strandparken is much greater than what concrete and steel projects have to pony up. Without giving numbers, Wilen said that it’s currently more expensive to build with the cross-laminated timber system that Folkhem uses. The buildings were erected piece by piece, including walls and floor systems manufactured north of Sundbyberg. Up to 52 trucks per day deliver the pre-fab pieces for installation. About 80 per cent of the production work is done in the factory.
However, one member of our mission team pointed out that British Columbia builders, which has built wood-frame mid-rise homes since 2009, use light-frame wood – which is only one-third of the cost of cross-laminated timber.
So there is still some hope on the affordability front.
Did I mention that wood is a renewable product? An eight-storey building only takes one minute to cultivate in Sweden’s forests.
By the way, Folkhem is now looking at building 10-, 12- and 22-storey wood-frame buildings across Sweden.
Not only do we have to start building six-storey wood-frame buildings, we’ve got to go higher than six. If Sweden can do it, why can’t Ontario?
There’s a lot that we’re learning from the Swedes this week.
Next stop: Copenhagen. Check out this space on Thursday.
Richard Lyall has represented the residential building industry in Ontario since 1991 in his capacity as the President of RESCON, the President of the Metropolitan Toronto Apartment Builders Association and as the Executive Director of the Toronto Residential Construction Labour Bureau. Lyall is also a frequent speaker and writer on issues related to the construction industry.