Mass Timber Is on the Rise: Do You Need to Tap an Expert Consultant?

The advantages of timber frame construction are great. If you are new to heavy timber framing, though, consulting with a timber expert can greatly enhance the experience. They’ll work with you on design parameters for the most efficient use of mass timber, help you avoid pitfalls, offer design assist services to guide the project through the bidding stages, and keep detailing on the right track. Before you connect with a consultant, though, there are some things to consider.

Why You May Need a Timber Consultant

When building timber frame structures, many timber frame design and construction professionals connect with a timber frame construction consultant first to gain a basic understanding of the process from concept, through design, to fabrication and installation. They may lack previous experience with timber construction, mass timber buildings, or timber trusses and are looking to fill gaps in their knowledge.

Also, it’s common that a project can be detailed improperly for mass timber, so a consultant with timber frame expertise can help better educate design and building professionals about the most efficient use of the material, design values, and connection detailing. This is true even when the structure is a hybrid of mass timber, structural steel, and/or concrete components.

newly built barn with stone and timber frame

Who Engages with a Heavy Timber Consultant

With heavy timber construction, architects, general contractors, developers, and structural engineers can all benefit from outside help, especially if it is the first time a professional is building with heavy timber frames or a hybrid timber frame structure.

What You Should Know: Glossary of Terms

  • CLT (Cross-Laminated Timber): Layers of dimensional lumber, stacked in alternating directions, adhered together to form a solid timber product.
  • Heavy Timber: Wood members that are no less than 8” x 8” thick. Trusses regularly span less than 30’ and greater than 60’.
  • Hybrid Timber Framing Structure: Combines heavy timber with other types of construction. This can include conventional framing, concrete, and varying types of structural steel components.
  • Mass Timber: An engineered heavy timber product. “Mass timber” encapsulates CLT and glulam, along with a host of other engineered wood products.
  • Timber Frame: A load-bearing wooden structure held together primarily with traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery. (Steel connections may be utilized depending on the application and/or desired aesthetic.)

ceiling view of light colored timber frames

What Your Consultant Will Want to Know About Your Project

To help your timber frame consultant understand why you have approached them and how they can help you, they will want to assess your particular situation. To help the consultant understand your project, share the particulars, including:

  • What type of build is it? Is this a private or public build? Are you building a timber house? A timber frame barn? Is it a hybrid timber frame home? What is the occupancy classification? Or is it your first experience with mass timber buildings?
  • What is the scope: size, budget, timeline, etc.?
  • What is the purpose of the structure? Will a family be living in your timber home? Will people be shopping and working in your timber frame commercial building?
  • Who will use the structure?
  • Where is the location of the structure?

Together, with this knowledge in hand, you can identify any challenges associated with your given situation.

What You Should Be Asking Your Consultant

You will want to know that your heavy timber consultant has the know-how needed to help you with your project. Consider asking about the following:

  • Previous consultancy work, projects, and case studies
  • Pricing
  • How invoicing works
  • Associations, affiliations, organizations, or other helpful resources. Some examples are Nordic Structure’s website for product specifications and photos of projects, the WoodWorks website, and the North American Mass Timber Manual.

newly built perfectly symmetrical timber frame

Size of a Consulting Engagement

This can depend on your previous experience with timber frame construction and the scope of your project. You may need help with all aspects of your timber frame building (material, joinery, truss configuration, bracing, etc.), or you may only need a consultant to comment on a particular connection detail. You may also want to request material samples if you are new at using heavy timber in construction.

Work with a timber consultant can last up to six months, depending on how early the consultant gets involved. This varies depending on how far along your project is before consulting begins.

How You Will Benefit from Working with a Consultant

Let’s say you’ve just finished your first project with a timber consultant. You lined up one of the experts in the field, you exchanged information and details, and the project went off without a hitch. That’s the result you were after. Your project would have failed had you not chosen the right partner to guide you through the building of the structure.

Along the way, you might have learned how developers are using mass timber now for multi-housing projects, or you now have tips on fabrication and installation. You will have learned the most efficient way to build with heavy timber and the embodied values that come with living with exposed wood. You probably learned tips on connection detailing, and if you had your consultant check your work as you went, there’s that peace of mind, too.

You’ve learned that engaging mass timber for your next building is becoming more and more popular as architects and designers look for innovative and environmentally sustainable methods and materials. Codes are starting to recognize all of the positive attributes of building a structure with wood — from forest upkeep to storing carbon in its wood panels.

A consultancy partnership is successful when the client has been presented with all the possibilities and outcomes and has learned how to navigate the new mass timber industry. Learning those efficiencies will mean cost savings, often realized across the board with all contractors on the job.

Yes, mass timber is on the rise, and the team here at Mid-Atlantic Timberframes can assist you from concept to final walk-through. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you successfully build your heavy timber construction project!

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