Sierra Institute for Community and Environment has brought sustainable, ecofriendly fire resistant homes to Greenville through cross laminated timber (CLT).
At a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house on Aug. 19, held at The Spot in Greenville, local residents toured two of these homes to learn about the benefits of CLT, also known as mass timber. They range from energy efficiency to pest and fire resistance.
These structures are more than houses. They are homes that give residents of Indian Valley assurance of a brighter future, and victims of wildfire throughout our country a beacon of hope.
“The hope is that by modeling these homes we can start to develop what single family housing looks like using mass timber. It’s not that common right now,” said Payton Narancic, Sierra Institute’s mass timber coordinator. “What we want to show is that this is a really appropriate solution in fire hazard areas.”
The natural fire-resistant properties of mass timber are similar to what you see in a tree in the forest, where the outside is charred but the inside stays intact, she said. Layering CLT with other components, such as noncombustible insulation and noncombustible siding, creates an airtight assembly. The industry is relatively new in the United States but growing.
“We want to be part of the effort and use it where we feel it is appropriate, which is here in a place that is a high fire risk,” Narancic said.
“What we want to show is that <CLT> is a really appropriate solution in fire hazard areas.”Payton Narancic
Cross laminated timber is a mass timber product in which several layers of kiln-dried lumber are stacked in alternating horizontal and vertical layers, then bonded with structural adhesives and pressed. The combination creates conventional dimensional lumber forming panels, providing a structurally robust system that can be assembled quickly.
Mass timber employs practices utilizing damaged lumber as well as small and already dead trees, generally considered to be undesirable. Thinning forest stands helps create a healthier environment while providing a profitable market and local jobs. The positive ecological impacts of using CLT don’t end there. With greenhouse gas emissions accelerating due to human activities, CLT is an ecofriendly option because of its ability to store carbon during the building’s lifetime, said Narancic.
This is not the Sierra Institute’s first CLT rodeo. In 2018 it made California history by building the first full cross-laminated timber building in Quincy. Located at the courthouse annex, the building holds a biomass boiler used to provide heat and electricity. It heats the building using wood chips from the forest, reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire while minimizing our carbon footprint.
Jonathan Kusel, founder of the Sierra Institute, said he felt compelled to bring this building method to Greenville following the Dixie Fire.
“We need to build, but not build back with just anything. We need to build back with something that is truly fire resistant. We are locking up carbon and using wood from our forests, putting people back to work,” he said.
“We are locking up carbon and using wood from our forests, putting people back to work.”Jonathan Kusel
In the wake of the Dixie devastation, it was abundantly clear that previous forestry techniques were not effective, said Kusel. Using CLT would provide an industry that would reduce fuel in our forests as well as allow residents to live once again without the constant worry of living through the depredation in the wake of wildfire.
Sierra Institute is exploring the development of a facility that will make mass timber panels. The idea of having a facility producing these panels right here in Indian Valley would be “a lifeline for the local economy” as well as substantially increase the number of homes being built, Kusel added. The building process is significantly faster than traditional building practices and reduces on-site waste to virtually nothing, Narancic said.
Cal Fire’s Casey Urrutia, battalion chief in Lassen County, emphasized the importance of fuel reduction, home hardening and defensible space. “You limit the fire, slow it, or possibly even stop it for enough time for resources to come in and mitigate the threat and move on to the next structure,” Urrutia said.
Home hardening includes sealing all the little cracks and voids in a home that can hold embers. Mass timber is a noncombustible, sustainable material with an incredible strength-to-weight ratio. It is far less vulnerable to fire damage than a traditional two-by-four.
“Building back better” has become Greenville’s mantra, and with CLT on the forefront, the future is looking bright.