ICC Set to Vote this Fall on Construction of Wood Buildings Up to 18 Stories

DENVER— The International Code Council, which provides the basis for building codes around the world, is set to vote this fall on whether it will back a code change to allow construction of wood buildings up to 18 stories. The effort is opposed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

According to the nationwide poll conducted by Hart Research on behalf of Portland Cement Association (PCA), three in four respondents, or 74 percent, think it’s a bad idea to allow high-rise construction using wood. Further, three in four respondents, or 74 percent, also say they’d be personally uncomfortable doing business in buildings built using wood products, such as cross-laminated timber.

When asked why they had concerns about such proposals, the following percentage of respondents volunteered specific reasons, which are summarized here:

  • Wood is less strong than other building materials like steel and concrete, it’s not as sturdy or durable and could break (52%)
  • Wood is more flammable, more likely to burn, and presents a greater fire hazard (31%)
  • Wood is more susceptible to weather damage and weather events (including earthquakes & hurricanes), it is less safe and will decompose or rot faster than other materials (18%)

“Denver and cities all across the United States should be concerned that fundamentally changes to how large buildings are constructed could occur this fall. Polling shows three in four Americans said wood buildings are a threat to public safety. ICC members should follow the public’s lead and reject the proposal to allow for 18-story buildings made of wood,” said John Norton, director of media and public affairs at Portland Cement Association.

According to an article on, if the ICC passes the new tall wood building codes, state and local agencies are likely to modify their own regulations to allow for this type of construction, as they do with the other changes the ICC makes. “And, as with the ICC proposals, there is bound to be pushback from those concerned about fire safety, although wood advocates maintain that charring of heavy timber actually allows wood structures to maintain up to 90 percent of their strength during a fire,” the article states.

Platte Fifteen, a 151,736-square-foot, 5-story, mixed-use building will be one of the first buildings in Denver to be constructed of cross-laminated timber (CLT) — a wood material that Crescent Real Estate, LLC believes is both sustainable, stable and aesthetically pleasing, mimicking the look of heavy, old-growth lumber. However, Norton argues that the safety of CLT  remains unknown, especially for high-rise buildings.

“Tall Wood products like cross-laminated timber are untested, unproven and unsound. Until more rigorous scientific testing occurs and greater transparency about those efforts are shared with the public, moving forward with these larger buildings is ill-advised,” he warns.

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