Wood is commonly used in construction, but often perceived as being less safe than structures made from non-combustible materials. With the advancement of wood products and treatment, construction techniques, and protective systems, this may not be the case any longer. Using retrospective data from fire departments across Canada, this study aimed to determine whether the type of construction material (combustible or non-combustible) affected the fire severity outcome of a one to six storey apartment building fire, after accounting for protective systems (smoke alarms and sprinklers). The study found that, after adjusting for the presence of smoke alarms and sprinklers, structures constructed from non-combustible construction materials did not perform better in terms of injuries, requiring extinguishment by fire department, or the fire spreading beyond the room of origin. The presence of working smoke alarms and sprinklers played a central role in reducing the severity outcome of a fire. Smoke alarms and sprinklers both reduced the odds of extinguishment by the fire department and the fire spreading beyond the room of origin. Sprinklers also reduced the injury rate. Overall, this study highlighted the importance of protective systems in reducing fire severity outcomes.
The vulnerability of any building, regardless of the material used, in a fire situation is higher during the construction phase when compared to the susceptibility of the building after it has been completed and occupied. This is because the risks and hazards found on a construction site differ both in nature and potential impact from those in a completed building; and these risks are occurring at a time when the fire prevention elements that are designed to be part of the completed building are not yet in place. For these reasons, construction site fire safety includes some unique challenges. Developing an understanding of these hazards and their potential risks is the first step towards fire prevention and mitigation during the course of construction (CoC).
The possibilities for building in wood have gradually increased in recent decades mainly due to environmental benefits. But there are still restrictions in terms of fire regulations in many countries, especially for taller buildings. The situation has therefore been mapped in about 40 countries on four continents as an update to a survey in 2002. The main issues are how high buildings with load-bearing wooden frames may be built and how much visible wood may be used both inside and outside on facades. The restrictions apply primarily to prescriptive fire design according to simplified design with detailed rules, which are mainly used for residential buildings and offices. For more complicated constructions e.g. public buildings, shopping centers, arenas and assembly halls, performance based design can be used by fire safety engineering design using, e.g. methods for evacuation and smoke filling, which increases the possibilities of using wood in buildings. The possibilities to use wood in buildings increase if sprinklers are installed, which is highlighted. Major differences between countries have been identified, both in terms of the number of storeys permitted in wood structures, and of the amounts of visible wood surfaces in interior and exterior applications. Several countries have no specific regulations, or do not limit the number of storeys in wooden buildings. The conclusion is that the differences are still large and that many countries have not yet started to use larger wood constructions despite supplies of forest resources, but harmonizing activities on performance based principles are ongoing worldwide.
Fire safety is widely perceived as a barrier to implementation of tall timber buildings, particularly for engineered mass timber buildings with significant areas of exposed timber and timber structural framing. This negative perception is exacerbated by a lack of scientific data or experimental evidence on a range of potentially important issues that must be properly understood to undertake rational, performance-based engineering design of such structures. With the goal of delivering fully engineered structural fire designs, this paper presents and discusses a framework for using scientific knowledge, along with fire engineering tools and methods, to enable the design of timber buildings such that, when subject to real fire loads, their performance is quantified. The steps in this framework are discussed with reference to the available literature, in an effort to highlight areas where additional knowledge and tools are needed.
Project contact is Christian Dagenais at Université Laval (Canada)
The use of materials in a building is traditionally determined from its combustibility (via ULC S114 or ULC S135) and by its flame propagation index (via ULC S102). The ULC S102 Flame Spread Test, developed in 1943, has historically reduced risk through its method of classifying materials. However, this test does not provide quantitative information on the combustion properties of materials, such as heat flow. The latter is one of the most important variables in the development of a fire. Thus, a new approach would be preferable in order to review the classification of materials according to ULC S102 and ULC S135 (cone calorimeter). The objective of this project is to develop a new approach to classifying materials based on cone calorimeter test results. These results can subsequently be used in numerical modeling as part of a fire safety engineering design. A significant amount of cone calorimeter (ULC S135) testing of materials currently evaluated according to ULC S102 will be required.
This paper presents a review of the pyrolysis, ignition, and combustion processes associated with wood, for application in tall timber construction. The burning behaviour of wood is complex. However the processes behind pyrolysis, ignition, combustion, and extinction are generally well understood, with good agreement in the fire science literature over a wide range of experimental conditions for key parameters such as critical heat flux for ignition (12 kW/m2 ± 2 kW/m2) and heat of combustion (17.5 MJ/kg ± 2.5 MJ/kg). These parameters are key for evaluating the risks posed by using timber as a construction material. Conversely, extinction conditions are less well defined and understood, with critical mass loss rates for extinction varying from 2.5 g/m2s to 5 g/m2s. A detailed meta-analysis of the fire resistance literature has shown that the rate of burning as characterised by charring rate averaged over the full test duration is observed to vary with material properties, in particular density and moisture content which induce a maximum 18% variability over the ranges expected in design. System properties are also shown to be important, with stochastic phenomena such as delamination and encapsulation failure resulting in changes to the charring rate that cannot be easily predicted. Finally, the fire exposure as defined by incident heat flux has by far the largest effect on charring rates over typical heat fluxes experienced in compartment fires. Current fire design guidance for engineered timber products is largely prescriptive, relying on fixed ‘‘charring rates’’ and ‘‘zero-strength layers’’ for structural analyses, and typically prescribing gypsum encapsulation to prevent or delay the involvement of timber in a fire. However, it is clear that the large body of scientific knowledge that exists can be used to explicitly address the fire safety issues that the use of timber introduces. However the application of this science in real buildings is identified as a key knowledge gap which if explored, will enable improved efficiencies and innovations in design.
This report explores the building code related considerations of wood construction for school buildings that are up to four storeys in height. Though wood construction offers a viable structural material option for these buildings, the British Columbia Building Code (BCBC 2018) currently limits schools comprised of wood construction to a maximum of two storeys. Three- and four-storey schools and larger floor areas in wood construction require an Alternative Solution.
The report identifies key fire safety features offered by combustible construction materials including tested and currently widely available engineered mass timber products, such as glued-laminated timber and cross-laminated timber. A risk analysis identifies the risk areas defined by the objectives of the British Columbia Building Code (BCBC 2018) and evaluates the level of performance of the Building Code solutions for assembly occupancies vis-à-vis the level of performance offered by the proposed schools up to four storeys in building height.
As land values continue to rise, particularly in higher-density urban environments, schools with smaller footprints will become increasingly more necessary to satisfy enrollment demands. There are currently a number of planned new school projects throughout British Columbia that anticipate requiring either three-or four-storey buildings, and it is forecasted that the demand for school buildings of this size will continue to rise.
This report is closely related to the study Design Options for Three-and Four-Storey Wood School Buildings in British Columbia, which illustrates the range of possible timber construction approaches for school buildings that are up to four storeys in height.
Over the past 10-15 years a renaissance in wood architecture has occurred with the development of new wood building systems and design strategies, elevating wood from a predominantly single-family residential idiom to a rival of concrete and steel construction for a variety of building types, including high rises. This new solid wood architecture offers unparalleled environmental as well as construction and aesthetic benefits, and is of growing importance for professionals and academics involved in green design.
Sustainable, safe, durable, cost-effective and efficient; wood is used across Canada in occupancy classes such as business, residential, commercial and assembly. In the United States, many mixed-use buildings have been designed as “podium” buildings; a wood structure bearing on a podium of noncombustible construction. The International Building Code includes provisions that allow wood buildings, often housing residential or business occupancies, to be constructed over a podium of noncombustible construction accommodating mercantile or assembly occupancies.
The concept of a horizontal fire separation, acting to a certain degree as a “horizontal firewall”, was introduced in the International Building Code in the mid-2000s, allowing the podium to be considered a separate and distinct building from the wood structure that sits overtop. Since podium structures are becoming increasingly “à la mode” in the construction industry, integrating the horizontal fire separation concept into the National Building Code of Canada would allow the industry to benefit from the advantages of wood construction in mixed-use buildings
At the request of FPInnovations, this technical report has been prepared as a guideline for the implementation of design provisions for wood podium buildings into the National Building Code of Canada. Various strategies, special considerations, and possible risks for fire safety in this type of building are explored.
This paper describes selected observations, measurements, and analysis from a series of large-scale experiments on cross-laminated timber (CLT) slabs that were exposed to fire from below, using four different heating scenarios, with a sustained mechanical loading of 6.3 kN m per metre width of slab. The deflection response and in-depth timber temperatures are used to compare the experimental response against a relatively simple structural fire model to assess the load bearing capacity of CLT elements in fire, including during the decay phase of natural fires. It is demonstrated that the ventilation conditions in experiments with a fixed fuel load are important in achieving burnout of the contents before structural collapse occurs. A mechanics-based structural fire model is shown to provide reasonably accurate predictions of structural failure (or lack thereof) for the experiments presented herein. The results confirm the importance of the ventilation conditions on the fire dynamics, burning duration, and the achievement of functional fire safety objectives (i.e. maintaining stability and compartmentation), in compartments with exposed CLT.