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Integrating Acoustics with Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) in Modern Architecture

Published30 Jan 2024
Written ByRebecca Fox

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) has swiftly become a game-changer in the world of architecture and design, redefining the way we construct buildings. Architects and designers are increasingly turning to this innovative material for its versatility, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal.

So What is CLT?

At its core, CLT is an engineered wood product composed of multiple layers of lumber, each glued together with alternating grain orientations. This crosswise arrangement enhances the material's structural integrity, making it a robust and reliable choice for construction.

Versatile Applications

CLT's adaptability extends across various applications in construction. Its uses, from residential to commercial buildings, are diverse, providing a solid foundation for walls, floors, and roofs. The material's flexibility allows for streamlined construction processes, reducing time and costs.

Photo © Scott Hemenway

Source: Construction Specifier

The Growing Popularity

Why is CLT gaining traction in the construction industry? The answer lies in its eco-friendly nature and sustainable properties. As a renewable resource, wood sequesters carbon, contributing to a lower carbon footprint than traditional building materials. Additionally, the speed of construction and design flexibility further contribute to its rising popularity.

The new Atlassian building by BVN features three-floor CLT megafloors to create world’s tallest hybrid timber tower in Sydney, Australia

Source: SMH

Aesthetics Redefined

Beyond its structural benefits, CLT brings a unique aesthetic to architectural designs. The exposed layers of wood provide a warm, natural appearance. Designers and end-users alike are drawn to the harmonious blend of functionality and visual appeal that CLT offers and the structure is quite often left exposed to reveal the natural timber finish.

Source: ArchDaily

Achieving Acoustic Harmony

While the aesthetic appeal of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) is undeniable, achieving acoustic harmony in spaces adorned with CLT involves strategic design choices. Decor Systems stands at the forefront of providing innovative acoustic solutions, offering a myriad of options to seamlessly integrate acoustics with the unique beauty of CLT.

Decor Systems Head Office - Sydney, AustraliaDecor Systems Head Office - Sydney, Australia
Decor Systems Head Office - Sydney, Australia

1. Printed Fibre Cement: A Non-Combustible Marvel

For those seeking a non-combustible and moisture-resistant solution, Decor Systems introduces DecorLux, our printed fibre cement range. This versatile material can be printed with any image to imitate the wonderful, knotted finish characteristic of CLT. The result is a visually cohesive space where acoustic functionality meets the aesthetic allure of natural wood all with the added benefit of the inherently durable fibre cement material.

Bushfire Centre of Excellence. DecorLux was printed with a Hoop Pine finish to match the internal timber veneer

2. Zen Perforated Panels: Smart Solutions

Decor Systems' Zen range of perforated panels takes acoustic design to the next level. These panels can be finished with a custom SmartLook or Veneer replicating the distinctive appearance of CLT. The flexibility of Zen panels allows designers to tailor acoustic solutions that resonate with the inherent charm of CLT. Our Knotted Oregon finish works particularly well alongside a CLT structure.

Knotty Oregon Veneer

3. Plywood Substrate and Raw Finishes with Zen

To complement the natural finish of CLT panels, Decor Systems offers the Zen range with a plywood substrate and raw finish. This combination not only aligns with the visual language of CLT but also enhances the overall acoustic performance of the space. The raw finish adds a touch of organic elegance, creating a harmonious balance between the structural and the aesthetic.

Raw Plywood Substrate

Endless Options, Infinite Capabilities

The spectrum of possibilities with Decor Systems is virtually endless. Our extensive capabilities ensure that, whether driven by practical or aesthetic considerations, you will find the perfect acoustic solution to complement your CLT structure.

And what about when it comes to compliance?

Is Cross Laminated Timber Fire Resistant?

Cross Laminated Timber stands out for its remarkable fire resistance, offering a distinct advantage over traditional timber construction. Unlike steel, CLT maintains structural stability even in high-temperature conditions, and panels can be engineered with fire resistances ranging from 30 to 90 minutes. Despite the common perception associating timber with fire risk, solid wood and CLT demonstrate a significantly different performance compared to their timber frame counterparts.

CLT achieves its fire resistance through a process called 'charring.' When exposed to a fire exceeding 400 degrees Celsius, the timber panel's surface ignites and steadily burns, forming a char layer. This char layer acts as an insulator, preventing an excessive temperature increase within the unburnt core of the panel. The unaffected core continues to function for the designated fire resistance period. The key to achieving the specified fire resistance is maintaining sufficient solid timber behind the char layer to sustain the applied loads. Consequently, each CLT panel must be meticulously designed for its fire resistance period and the specific loadings it will encounter.

Is CLT Expensive?

The cost of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) can vary depending on several factors, including the project's location, the size and complexity of the structure, and market conditions. In general, CLT has been considered a competitive and cost-effective option in comparison to traditional construction materials like concrete and steel.

While the upfront material cost of CLT may be higher than some alternatives, its advantages in terms of construction speed, reduced labour costs, and sustainability often contribute to overall project cost savings. The efficiency of construction with CLT, which allows for quicker assembly and potentially lower labour expenses, can offset the initial material costs.

Additionally, and as mentioned above, the environmental benefits of CLT, such as its renewable nature and capacity to sequester carbon, can align with the increasing demand for sustainable building practices. As the use of CLT becomes more widespread and production methods improve, economies of scale may further contribute to cost reduction.

Source: Naturally Wood

What are the Disadvantages of CLT?

Despite its numerous advantages, Cross-Laminated Timber is not without its drawbacks. One significant consideration is its higher upfront cost compared to traditional materials such as steel or concrete.

Code restrictions on timber building heights in some regions may limit the potential applications of CLT structures. The absence of wall cavities in CLT panels can lead to increased costs for electrical, plumbing, and other services, as these installations may require specialised solutions.

Additionally, the unique properties of CLT may necessitate higher architectural and design costs to optimise the material's benefits effectively.

Finally, the relatively limited number of CLT manufacturing plants can contribute to higher material transportation costs, especially in areas where these plants are not readily accessible.

Despite these considerations, the myriad advantages make CLT a compelling choice.

To explore how Decor Systems' acoustic solutions can be used to complement a CLT structure, get in touch with your local rep today.

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