Taller Small Buildings

Taller wooden buildings could be a game-changer for Calgary’s housing crunch.

Mid-density housing in our city has new options on the horizon as recent changes to regulations in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto have allowed for taller wooden structures. Previously, buildings constructed of wood only stretched to 3 or 4 stories due to safety concerns. Concrete structures, being more expensive to build, ran much taller to maximize value.

So what does this mean for Calgary?

Taller wood buildings could help fill a gap in our housing shortage and increase density in suburban and core areas. In Toronto, new sites, previously deemed unsuitable, are now open for consideration. Wood units are also cheaper, coming in as much as 10 to 20 percent cheaper, according to some estimates.

Calgary’s chief planner, Rollin Stanley, has been pushing to change the regulations on wood buildings since joining The City a few years ago, much to the excitement of developers looking to create affordable mid-density construction.

“Canada has become one of the global leaders in tall wood research.”

Peter Lister, vice-president of forest operations and wood products at FPInnovations.

Since 2009, over 50 wooden structures between 4 to 6 stories have been built in Vancouver and have been touted as a newer, more cost effective (and greener) way of building multi-family housing in urban areas.

One of the primary concerns of these new wood buildings is safety. Kingston’s City Council, including the mayor, are hesitant about 6 story wooden structures after a massive fire early last year. However, stronger wooden beams and increased fire sprinklers have been giving regulators confidence in wood throughout British Columbia and Quebec.

“Once it’s built, there’s no difference between four-storey and six-storey,” said Marco Civitarese, the city’s (of Calgary) chief building inspector said. “You have the fire protection systems that a concrete building has.”

The recent changes in Calgary are opening up a lot of new options for builders of multi-family housing, with City planners looking at many arteries and key corridors to potentially encourage more of that density type.

Is the price tag the biggest factor in buying multi-family housing? Tweet us at @smarter_growth

February 10th, 2015
Updated: September 14th, 2017

Wood could ignite mid-density renewal.