Is Mass Timber too “Bouncy” For Floors in Labs and Life Sciences Buildings?

29 August 2023

One of the building types which has yet to see significant adoption of mass timber is labs and life sciences buildings. Is this due to the presence of equipment which is sensitive to floor vibrations? A function of the large spans needed? Mis-perceptions about mass timbers ability to meet these needs? The answer is “all of the above”. Let’s dig into this topic…

Most laboratory projects are built around standardized modules of 11’-0”. Most projects look to create double or triple bays such that columns and beams are often 22’ or 33′ o.c. These spans are long for single-span mass timber, but the second issue can complicate things further:

Some laboratory projects have sensitive equipment that must be supported on floor framing with higher levels of vibration performance than would be standard for typical occupant comfort. Even in non-lab projects, mass timber floor panel spans are typically vibration controlled, so longer spans and tighter vibration requirements create a unique set of challenges. This is not to suggest that mass timber can’t be used in labs and life sciences buildings – it can and it has been (see examples below) but projects will often look to span the 11′ module dimension with intermediate purlins, or utilize hybrid and/or composite designs.

In the US, there are currently no prescriptive code recognized methods of performing timber-concrete composite designs. However, there are several guideline documents and test reports that engineers can use to help in their analysis.

Several forward-thinking design teams have been working on project designs and studies to arrive at cost-effective mass timber solutions for labs and life sciences buildings, particularly in cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. Some resources that Ricky McLain from WoodWorks US references often for these unique constraints and design opportunities:


1. Will New IBC Rules Usher in an Era of Mass Timber Lab Buildings?

2. Steel-Timber Hybrid Floor Vibrations in Life Science Laboratory Buildings:

3. US Mass Timber Floor Vibration Design Guide:

4. Design Guide for Timber-Concrete Composite Floors in Canada:

Completed Projects

MSU STEM Teaching and Learning Facility:

Northlake Commons:

If you want to learn more about vibration-sensitive mass timber floor design, or timber-concrete composite design, or more, contact WoodWorks.  

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