Five Keys to a Successful CLT Project

What makes a CLT project different from a traditional one? And how can you help ensure the team’s success? We’ve assembled our five key recommendations to help teams achieve a successful CLT project and a smooth overall process. To learn more about CLT’s big picture, check out our featured article in The Connection.

We regularly work with partners who place sustainability as a high priority. Highly-sustainable Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) is attractive to environmental stewards and forward-thinkers. It’s also attractive to those wanting to generate jobs and create an economic impact, particularly in rural areas. As such, CLT recently won the attention of five Washington school districts. Partnering with Mahlum Architects and Walsh Construction Company, our team is executing $3.3 million of a $5.5 million program that’s using CLT for elementary classrooms. The initiative includes districts across the state including, Seattle, Sequim, Mount Vernon, and Wapato. Each features a single-story building made from large CLT panels and pre-fabricated bathrooms.

We’re excited by this new material, and are dedicated to helping CLT gain traction in the Pacific Northwest. We learn more with each conference we attend, article we read, and project we work on, and we’re happy to share our learnings with you!

1. Commit Early.

Put simply, CLT requires commitment. It’s a new material, and breaking ground with a new material is inherently more difficult than relying on an old fallback. We understand the desire to run two designs (a traditional and a CLT) in parallel, but our recommendation: don’t do it. Your CLT design will most likely get dropped. Your partners don’t have time and resources to waste on two designs. A secondary design is not a safety net, it’s a distraction that’s stealing time from a process that requires full attention and dedication. Ultimately, it’s the owner who needs to make this commitment, and the owner who needs to be comfortable with risks and rewards. We say, embrace the potential rewards! Shrinking foundations, lower construction and specialized labor costs, long-term operations savings, significant sustainability benefits, a striking final product – all good!

2. Inspire Your Team (and demand early buy-in).

Sure, maybe it sounds a bit flowery, but an inspired, integrated team in which every member has fully bought-in to the process, is essential to the success of any CLT project. Help your team understand future hurdles, but help them get excited too! In the long-term, they’re more likely to be creative, collaborative, and have one another’s backs. Additionally, this team must extend to the jurisdiction. Bring the Building Official in early. Be positive, invite them to be a part of the team and learn together.We recommend leaning heavily on CLT success stories. There is a library of international projects that will surely excite and inspire teams. And while the Pacific Northwest presents unique challenges, both seismic and beyond, there are great local success stories as well, like Framework and WSU PACCAR Environmental Technology Building. Leverage and learn from them.

3. Choose your Contractor Carefully.

The contractor on a CLT project is especially important. The contractor is responsible for instilling confidence in the rest of the team, convincing them that yes, it really can be done. In the end, they’ll be the ones driving the cost, so they need to be willing to adopt a new process and model, and ready to move quickly.

4. Emphasize Design.

One of the things we love most about CLT is how it looks. And it’s not just us, we’ve been hearing requests for exposed timber beams for years! Partner with the right architect or developer, one who is willing to integrate into the team and has a design vision which will complement and elevate CLT’s natural beauty.

5. Communicate with the Community.

Tell your community what you’re doing! Why did the team make the choices they did? Why does this benefit the neighborhood? The environment? The space’s end users?Not only will this establish the new building as a good neighbor, but it drives excitement, gets people interested, and garners publicity for sustainability efforts (and your project).

6. (Bonus Key!) Be Loyal to the Basics.

A bonus key! While not specific to CLT projects, no program can be successful without getting the basics right. Don’t get sloppy and let cornerstones like proactivity, reliability, quality or communication fall away. They’re the core of every successful project, and make for great partners!

Want to discuss CLT further? Contact Chris Duvall, P.E., S.E.,