ICC is Examining the Possibility of IBC Tall Wood Code Provisions
On a late summer day in 2016, a historic building construction threshold was exceeded on the campus of the University of British Columbia - Point Grey.
It was a topping-off ceremony for a $39 million, 18-story student housing tower, slated to welcome 404 students this coming September. The building is called Brock Commons. What made this topping-out event a tipping point is the object the crane hoisted to the top of the tower's 178.8 feet height.
It was not a steel girder. It was a 9 foot by 13 foot 5-ply cross-laminated timber panel.
Brock Commons is currently the world's tallest mass timber building. As such, it signifies a major step in the worldwide advance of tall wood structures. Today there are dozens of planned and under-construction tall wood projects across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
And for the U.S., is there a Brock Commons in our future?
In this installment of Code Counts, we take a brief look at steps now underway by the International Code Council (ICC) to "...explore the building science of tall wood buildings and investigate the feasibility of and take action on developing code changes for tall wood buildings," according to the ICC Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings Rules and Procedures.
How should the International Building Code (IBC) recognize the role of next-generation mass timber construction, already well underway in many parts of the world? How tall is tall? What structural and fire testing can prove the strength and tall wood fire safety performance on an acceptable performance level? What building code provisions should the IBC offer building code professionals and designers on tall wood construction?
Meet the ICC Ad Hoc Committee
To answer those questions and dozens more, the ICC Board of Directors authorized an Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings to perform the investigation. The Ad Hoc Committee is comprised of four major work groups, with numerous task groups supporting each work group. The four work groups are formed around the following code areas:
- General Building Code Provisions and allowable heights and area
The Ad Hoc Committee and work group members represent a "best of the best" gathering of top industry officials from:
- Building construction material industries
- Building and fire officials
- Fire protection experts, engineers and architects with mass timber design experience
- Other construction-related professionals
The agenda before the Ad Hoc Committee is ambitious, the schedule tight. Chairing the overall initiative is Stephen DiGiovanni, P.E., fire protection engineer for Clark County (Las Vegas) Department of Building and Fire Prevention.
2021 Edition of the IBC
"The code edition that we're working towards is 2021," DiGiovanni says. "The particular codes that we're likely to be touching are the building code and fire code. They both start their code development cycle in January 2018."
That leaves this year as the fact-finding phase, while committees work to develop possible code language. A time to perform the necessary fire and structural testing that will support committee recommendations.
"We have less than a year to complete our studies," DiGiovanni explains. "I feel confident that we're going to have good substantiation for consideration."
"What I've tried to do is make sure that each work group is handling the parts of the issues and code sections that we needed answered," DiGiovanni reports. "We also looked at the codes and identified approximately 50 code sections that need to be addressed if we go forward. My job is to make sure that we're looking at the entire issue and that when we come up with an item that needs consideration, it goes immediately to the correct work group."
As working professionals, DiGiovanni and the other panelists understand what's at stake. "We're trying to give various jurisdictions some guidance. Right now there is no tall wood guidance – it's all performance-based or alternate means and materials. The Ad Hoc means we've investigated it, we've done the fire testing, and we've looked at the issues. By the time we reach code hearings, we'll have worked on the issues for two years."
Central to the investigative process is rigorous fire testing, demonstrating mass timber response to fire across a comprehensive range of common build scenarios. The American Wood Council (AWC) is contributing the findings of recent CLT fire performance tests they sponsored at the independent, nonprofit Southwest Research Institute's Fire Technology Department in San Antonio, Texas. Moreover, the AWC is working closely with the TWB to perform a two-story mass timber fire test this Spring. The results are expected to support the Ad Hoc committee's proposed code changes.
All Committee, Work Group, and Task Group members understand the critical imperative is fire safety. "The data has to be substantiated that tall wood buildings have sound fire safety performance to be tall," says Sam Francis, C.B.O., senior director of national programs for the AWC. Francis' colleague at the AWC, John Catlett, MCP, and manager of code development, reaffirms: "Our goal is to show that tall wood buildings have equal or better performance than other buildings in the same occupancy classification."
The Ad Hoc Committee is working to submit code changes for the 2018 Group A Cycle (IBC) in January 2018. Then "...there'll be initial code hearings from April 15 through 25 (2018) in Columbus, Ohio and a final round of code hearings from October 23 through 31 in Richmond, Va.," according to DiGiovanni. The Group B Cycle, covering remaining structural provisions will occur in 2019.
"We're looking at the tall wood building question from all angles. We're making sure that we address all concerns," DiGiovanni says.
To Learn More
- ICC members are encouraged to review the ongoing work of the ICC Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings. Committee documents, including meeting agendas, minutes, work group documents, and other material at ICC Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings website.
- For more information on tall wood buildings including the latest news, webinar instruction, videos on Brock Commons and recent fire tests, and code information, visit the American Wood Council Tall Wood web page.
For immediate assistance or to request free tall wood educational programs, contact:
John Catlett, MCP
Manager of Code Development, American Wood Council
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the American Wood Council and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Code Council, or Hanley Wood.