Mass Timber for Sustainable Buildings

Paul Crovella, Ph.D., Assistant professor of forest and natural resources management, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Studies show that using wood in interior spaces has measurable health and well-being benefits. People feel comfortable in a natural environment. Their heart rates are lower.


Project: Researching wood species suitable for mass timber construction to replace concrete and steel in commercial buildings.

Backstory: Steel and poured concrete production are two of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses. By contrast, building out of wood has a carbon reduction impact. For many years, wood has been limited to residential construction using 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 lumber boards. New techniques allow construction using much larger pieces of timber that can be used as columns, beams, walls and floors, and can be used in structures up to 18 stories high.

“Performance is similar to concrete and steel in terms of strength and fire safety,” says Crovella. “While small pieces of wood burn easily, once wood is large enough in size, it is actually very difficult to start burning.”

Nuts and Bolts: Most research on mass timber construction has been conducted in Europe and North America. Crovella, who has been testing different species of wood for six years, has turned his attention to South America, where forest resources are abundant but little effort has been made to understand whether the wood is appropriate for mass timber construction. With support from a Faculty Fellows grant, Crovella is testing wood species from Brazil, finding they are more than twice as strong as current mass timber products in use. “The wood in South America grows under much different conditions, and because of that, the types of wood that grow are much denser than what we have in North America,” he says.

SyracuseCoE Impact: Funding from SyracuseCoE allowed Crovella to purchase the wood and build panels in his lab at ESF to do strength testing.

Added Benefits: In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, mass timber construction offers health benefits if the interior wood is left exposed and unfinished. “Studies show that using wood in interior spaces has measurable health and well-being benefits,” says Crovella. “People feel comfortable in a natural environment. Their heart rates are lower. Their stress hormone levels are lower.”

Extra Credit: Crovella has been on the advisory council for the New York State Green Building Conference for the last decade, helping plan the theme and structure of the event and to select speakers. He’s also served as technical advisor to two ESF/SU teams competing in the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon to design a net-zero building. Both teams he advised, in 2014 and 2019, were divisional winners in the national competition.


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