Increasing numbers of architects, custom builders, and homeowners are choosing heavy timber or mass timber for their construction projects. Building with heavy timber provides unsurpassed strength and durability, as well as timeless elegance and beauty. Heavy timber and mass timber are also popular choices because of the warmth wood creates, its natural acoustic properties, and its ability to span distances. But which should you use, heavy timber or mass timber? And which wood species should you choose?
When to Use Glulam Instead of Heavy Timber
Glued laminated timber (or glulam), along with CLT (cross-laminated timber), is often used in mass timber construction. It is a structurally engineered wood product composed of individual wood laminations bonded together by durable, moisture-resistant adhesives. Glulam has excellent strength and stiffness, making it ideal for items such as columns and beams.
Where solid-sawn heavy timber has a traditional natural look, glulam provides a cleaner, more modern feel, which can make it the more appropriate choice for achieving certain styles. There are also times when solid-sawn heavy timber is not sufficient to withstand the loads of a large span truss or a lengthy span, usually in commercial structures, making glulam a suitable option.
Glulam is a good fit for commercial projects when engineered beams are required, but it has become increasingly popular in residential structures too. While its look is different, it still provides a warm feel. And because of its lighter weight, it can span longer distances than traditional heavy timber. Glulam can even be mixed with heavy timber for great structural results and a unique look.
How to Choose a Wood Species
There are thousands of different types of trees in the world, but some wood species are not strong or straight enough to build with. Even so, many wood species are suitable for construction purposes. At Mid-Atlantic Timberframes, we mainly use Douglas fir, eastern white pine, red cedar, and oak. Douglas fir is our first choice for timber frames because of its strength and tendency to be straighter than other species of wood.
To narrow down your options, work with a heavy timber partner to select the best wood species for your project. There are two perspectives to consider when choosing: the practical and the personal.
The Practical: Your best option of wood species may well be because of geography. If you’re building in a region heavy with oak, its proximity, availability, and lower cost of delivery will make it a very practical choice. Also, a species of wood common in the local area may be more durable for the climate too.
The Personal: Personal taste and preference may outweigh all other reasoning when it comes to building with heavy timber. For example, you may absolutely love the feel and coloring of cedar over any other wood species, so even though it tends to cost more, you may choose it anyway. If you have a specific request for a custom wood species, just know that it might add to the cost of your timber frame home or commercial structure.
However, there are ways to suit your personal preference while still being practical. If you love the look and color of a certain type of wood but it’s unavailable or outside of your budget, you can stain your heavy timber to match that species. You may also consider designing a hybrid structure, where multiple types of building materials are used. Heavy timber could be supplemented with materials such as concrete or metal — letting the wood’s appearance shine while allowing less costly materials to do the heavy lifting.
Work with a Timber Expert
Between traditional heavy timber and modern mass timber, there are a number of wood species to choose from to suit all building styles and budgets. When you are ready to design your mass or heavy timber structure — whether commercial or residential — please contact us, and we’ll help you choose the best type of timber and wood species for your project!