Code Changes to Accommodate Mass Timber Buildings

It’s true that change is inevitable. And as new trends and technologies emerge, we have to find a way to accommodate them, but not without thoroughly investigating the best and safest ways to do so.

Mass timber construction has emerged as a new trend in construction. According to, more than 21 tall wood building projects have broken ground in the last 5 years. Fire protection professionals naturally have some concerns about using wood in the construction of tall buildings. In order to address these founded concerns, the International Code Council (ICC) put together a committee to study the science and engineering related to mass timber construction. The committee’s work led to helpful insights for local code officials and first responders on the code-compliant construction and occupancy of mass timber buildings.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings (TWB) is comprised of designers, materials experts, code officials, and fire service professionals. In order to test out the safety of using mass timber materials in construction they developed five full-scale fire tests using a two-level apartment-style mass timber structure. The tests were conducted at the Federal Bureau of Firearms, Tobacco, Alcohol, and Explosives and they were witnessed by large group of people. During the tests, they also collected thousands of fire performance data points.

After the data points were analyzed, the TWB was able to draft a proposal for code changes that would allow for the safe construction of mass timber buildings. In order to construct mass timber buildings, the TWB proposal would require rigorous and redundant systems of fire protection in order to protect residents and fire service professionals. The TWB submitted its proposals to multiple ICC committees and the suggested changes passed. The proposed changes were then debated in public hearings that included government representatives. In December 2018, ICC announced that its governmental members upheld the TWB proposed changes, which will appear in the 2021 edition of the ICC codes.

The TWB’s rigorous efforts resulted in changes that will allow for the safe construction of mass timber buildings. It’s vital to keep the public and fire service professionals safe, but we cannot deny new trends and technologies. That is why the work of the TWB proved to be incredibly important for construction safety.


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