New York City Council approves the use of cross-laminated wood

City Council Chairman Corey Johnson (iStock)

The future of the New York skyline is … wood?

Building with cross-laminated wood, a type of constructed wood consisting of glued timber panels, will soon be allowed in the five districts.

The city council on Thursday approved extensive changes to the building regulations, which include allowing the special wood on projects up to 85 feet high or six to seven storeys. While some buildings in the city have already used the material, they required extensive, separate approvals.

The change still leaves the city behind others in the United States and light years behind other countries in legalizing wood. In Canada, firstly, dozens of such towers have already been built.

Earlier this year, the International Code Council, a body whose recommendations are often used as guidelines for sites, approved the use of wood in buildings of up to 18 storeys. Places with thriving timber industries, including Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Maine, and California, have been quicker to adopt the recommendations or versions of them.

Cross-laminated wood is described as more sustainable than steel and concrete, and a means of cutting down on construction times as it is prefabricated. It is still more expensive than traditional building materials as standardization is lacking and few manufacturers supply it.

The city council this week signed more than 7,000 revisions to the building regulations.

Another approved change reduces the minimum ceiling height for a basement apartment allowed in a two-family house to seven feet from eight. The change comes after about a dozen people drowned in basement apartments during an epic rain, renewing a debate over whether the city should legalize basement apartments further.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promoted legalization as a way to create tens of thousands of affordable housing. But recent deaths have raised questions about such changes.

The code changes also include faster inspection times for elevators and periodic inspection of inhabited buildings under construction to ensure that the work complies with tenant protection plans.

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