Tall mass timber interest drives demand for special inspector certification
In July, California is expected to become the latest state in the U.S. to embrace the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) provisions for tall mass timber (TMT), joining Washington, Oregon, Utah and the city of Denver as places that have permitted the design and construction of mass timber buildings up to 18 stories.
Other states and cities are also in the process of contemplating code changes to pave the way for TMT, including Montana, Virginia and Georgia. The American Wood Council (AWC) believes this momentum will continue to grow as more developers, designers and builders opt for sustainable wood as the primary structural material in tall buildings.
Reluctant to take my word for it? That’s fair. But consider some facts.
According to WoodWorks, a nonprofit committed to promoting wood in commercial buildings, there are 445 engineered mass timber projects completed or under construction, with another 534 in design.
Robert Malczyk, director of mass timber engineering at Katerra, a manufacturer of cross-laminated timber products, recently told a reporter for Engineering News-Record: “North America is in the early stages of a mass-timber construction boom, driven by increasing demand and expanded building code acceptance of larger mass-timber structures.”
From a construction safety standpoint, growth in the construction of TMT buildings by nature will create a demand and need for the professionals trained to ensure compliance with code and safety provisions during construction.
Last fall, the International Code Council announced its new Tall Mass Timber Special Inspector certification. This program, tailored to conform with the new IBC code provisions, includes the curriculum, training opportunities and testing required for those interested in gaining the experience and understanding necessary in this new area of construction.
Development of the special inspection certification program has been a linear process. First, the Code Council collaborated with AWC on the creation of Mass Timber Buildings and the IBC, a comprehensive manual compiling all of the tall mass timber building code provisions and commentary on those provisions, along with drawings and illustrations. When the manual was completed, the Code Council and AWC created and delivered a six-part education series of webinars and seminars based on the manual. Each module in the series focused on specific code provisions: heights and areas, fire safety, connection design, types of mass timber products, and so on.
Once the manual and the webinar series were underway, the Code Council formed an exam development committee (EDC) to create a certification exam for Special Inspectors of Tall Mass Timber Buildings. The EDC is a balanced committee made up of industry members, building officials, manufacturers and design professionals.
All special inspector certifications established by the Code Council consist of at least two exams. A 25 question general requirements exam is based on the Code Council’s Special Inspector Manual and is a requirement for all special inspection certifications. The Tall Mass Timber Special Inspector exam includes 70 questions based on the TMT code provisions. Exams are multiple-choice and open book. The Special Inspector of Tall Mass Timber Buildings exam questions are based on Mass Timber Buildings and the IBC, the IBC, and the International Fire Code.
Successful completion of the two exams earns the exam taker a certification that allows them to inspect TMT buildings during construction. Special inspectors will be tasked with inspecting connections, the application of noncombustible protection, whether construction fire safety provisions are being followed, and much more.
To be clear, TMT buildings are those constructed with solid wood floors and walls, large timber columns, and beams built of mass timber products. Typical mass timber products include cross-laminated timber, glued laminated timber (glulam) and structural composite lumber — all manufactured with renewable, sustainable wood from North American forests.
These engineered products are growing in popularity for multiple reasons, including versatility in design, faster construction times and significantly reduced impact on the environment.
Going forward, however, any building constructed using TMT products that exceeds six stories will have to comply with new provisions of the building code. Requirements to clear the way for the construction of TMT buildings up to 18 stories have recently been published in the 2021 edition of the IBC.
As you can guess, special inspectors certified for TMT projects are not a suggestion. They an essential and required part of the new code provisions. Additionally, special inspectors will also be required to enforce compliance with fire safety provisions during construction.
Working with the Code Council, AWC has helped develop a comprehensive library of resources to help prepare for the exam. This includes printed study materials and webinars covering a range of topics — from an introduction to mass timber components to fire safety and pertinent elements in the IBC for mass timber construction.
Tall mass timber buildings present an exciting moment in the history of the built environment. It’s important to have the education in place to make sure this construction type can safely capitalize on the opportunity — and the special inspector program will undoubtedly play a key role.