Reducing our Carbon Footprint with Mass Plywood Panels

Laurie Canup, David Webb

October 12, 2023

Bioscience industries are growing in Southwestern Washington, and Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver is a major talent pipeline that prepares students in the region for great jobs in this important industry. Students need space where they feel welcome to study, explore, and grow to excel in their work. The guiding principles for the WSU Vancouver Life Sciences Building reflect the needs of the students and the values of the campus and Vancouver community.

Progressive Design Build

One of the reasons we love progressive design build is the opportunity to collaborate with trade partners and explore pioneering ways to deliver more value for clients. Recently, SRG collaborated with Andersen Construction and The Harver Company to develop innovative prefabricated envelope wall panels for The Vanport Building. These panels were installed onsite with a robot, expediting the schedule and saving labor costs. For WSU Vancouver, we are again partnering with Andersen and Harver. The envelope system we developed is a unique solution with positive impacts on sustainability, design, and cost.


Mass Plywood Wall Panels 

The new WSU Vancouver Life Sciences project site is at the edge of campus on a steeply sloped site with the building embedded into the landscape. SRG, campus leaders, and the students were all in alignment in prioritizing sustainable design solutions. The project is tracking LEED Gold, and the team identified the goal to reduce the embodied carbon footprint by eliminating drywall and concrete wherever possible. Using wood for the interior beyond simply a finish material has the double benefit of creating a warm and inviting space while also achieving the reduced embodied carbon footprint and wellness goals.

Working with Andersen and Harver to innovate on the build process, we wondered if we could employ Mass Plywood Panels (MPP) for the envelope – which is one additional step in a prefabricated solution. Mass Plywood Wall and Roof panels are up to 10’ wide x 30’ long and up to 7” thick and can be fabricated from smaller trees and wood waste products. MPP walls come with a series of fabrication and carbon benefits. Framing the building’s walls and roof with MPP instead of the typical metal framed walls and roofs substitutes wood for a series of high-carbon content materials including metal framing, steel decking, drywall, and concrete. There are several more benefits to using mass plywood for the wall panels and attic floor with a sloped roof deck:

  • Leaving wood finishes exposed incorporates natural warmth to the interior and reduces the need for additional finish material and labor
  • Locally harvested and manufactured mass timber reduces shipping costs, impacts from emissions and activates local industries
  • Energy savings yielding lower emissions
    • Reduced peak loads on HVAC systems and 3% improvement on annual energy savings which equates to saving over $15,000 every year in the future
    • MPP naturally reduces thermal bridges from the brick veneer ties
    • The Building envelope’s R-Value would improve from R-16 to R-22
  • Cost neutral compared to alternative cold formed framing
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Wall corner details were crafted to allow for panel movement and installation tolerances at the corners of the building.


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As far as we know, this is one of the first applications of MPP for the building envelope. As such, the team had the opportunity to learn a lot together.


In the Pacific Northwest, rain can never be ruled out during any season. The team had to weigh tenting the entire structure or allowing the MPP to get wet and follow up with sanding and staining after installation. The budget did not support tenting, and the team was relieved that water stains were not much of a problem. Sanding and staining MPP works well and is a cost-effective way to address water stains and other blemishes once the building is dried in.

Given the sloping site, our team determined that shop applied Weather Resistant Barrier (WRB) made the most sense. However, due to the risk of damaging the shop-applied membrane during shipping and erection, it may make more sense to install WRB in the field in future applications when walls are easily accessible.

Mass plywood used for attic floor panels should have a temporary sheet added in the factory to help with adhesion. This would require only the seams to be field applied. Since the panels need to be dry for field application, some protection is better than none.

Some ideas we are exploring to address roof conditions in the future are: evaluating material fabrication and delivery times, designing the flat roof to slope to one edge to shed water while waiting for dry-in, terminating the exterior MPP no higher than the top of the attic floor to allow water to flow to the side of the building and not directly into the spaces below, and not cutting penetrations in the factory but rather cutting in the field when needed.

The envelope erection timeline was a big win for this project, and The Harver Company would gladly use MPP again. The original schedule estimated installing eight panels per day, which would require twenty workdays to install 156 panels. The Haver Company installed the entire MPP envelope in a little over four days. Saving this labor time provided a positive impact on the schedule and budget. However, the team was unable to leverage the fast erection into the critical path. For the next project, we will collaborate with the builder and develop roofing solutions that allow the fast MPP erection time be leveraged into the building’s critical path to shorten the overall dry-in timeline.

Detail of MPP at attic interface

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Partial roof framing at attic level

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Wall panel installation in process

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This project is a great win for WSU Vancouver and their students. Making the bold decision to use MPP alleviated the need for high-carbon content materials and saved energy and cost, and the result will be an amazing and innovative resource the entire Vancouver community can be proud of.