Mass Timber and Healthcare Construction

November 17, 2020

Photo of handling wood in a lab

Architecture Professor Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg says there is a bias against using wood in healthcare construction. Van Den Wymelenberg, the director of the UO’s Institute for Health in the Built Environment (IHBE)—a leader in studying how COVID-19 transfers in the built environment—recently told the Capital Press that some studies have shown that wood actually performs as well or better than steel or plastic in disease control.

In July 2020, the U.S. Forest Service awarded IHBE a $250,000 Wood Innovation Grant to “overcome market barriers to increase the use of structural mass timber in healthcare environments.” Mass timber refers to buildings or structures in which the main load-bearing structure is constructed out of wood or engineered wood, such as cross-laminated timber.

In the current study, “the team has placed samples of mass timber in sterilized boxes, about a cubic meter each in size, where they can control ventilation, temperature, and humidity conditions. The wood is inoculated with surrogate pathogens mimicking bacteria and viruses, which the team's facilities are not equipped to handle. Samples are subjected to different moisture levels, then analyzed to determine microbial growth and survival.”

The team includes students in the School of Architecture & Environment who are helping prepare samples for testing, conducting experiments, and processing data.

Van Den Wymelenberg says the study could lead to increased acceptance of mass timber, including in the healthcare field.

Read more in the story “Study aims to increase mass timber use in healthcare construction.”