The use of engineered timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) is of increasing interest to architects and designers due to their desirable aesthetic, environmental, and structural properties. A key factor preventing widespread uptake of these materials is the uncertainty regarding their performance in fire. Currently, the predominant approach to quantifying the structural fire resistance of timber elements is the charring rate, which allows estimation of residual cross-section and hence strength. The charring rate is usually determined by testing timber specimens in a furnace by exposure to a ‘standard fire’. However, it is recognized that the resulting charring rates are not necessarily appropriate for non-standard fire exposures or for characterizing the structural response in a real timber building. The effect of heating rate on the charring rate of CLT samples is investigated. The charring rate resulting from three heating scenarios (constant, simulated ‘standard fire’ and quadratically increasing) was calculated using interpolation of in-depth temperature measurements during exposure to heating from a mobile array of radiant panels, or in a Fire Propagation Apparatus (FPA). Charring rate is shown to vary both spatially and temporally, and as a function of heating rate within the range 0.36–0.79 mm/min. The charring rate for tests carried out under simulated ‘standard fire’ exposures were shown to agree with the available literature, thus partially verifying the new testing approach; however under other heating scenarios the Eurocode charring rate guidance was found to be unconservative for some of the heat flux exposures in this study. A novel charring rate model is presented based on the experimental results. The potential implications of this study for structural fire resistance analysis and design of timber structures are discussed. The analysis demonstrates that heating rate, sample size and orientation, and test setup have significant effects on charring rate and the overall pyrolysis, and thus need to be further evaluated to further facilitate the use of structural timber in design.
Engineered timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) are gaining popularity with designers due to attractive aesthetic, sustainability, and constructability credentials. The fire behaviour of such materials is a key requirement for buildings formed predominantly of exposed, structural timber elements. Whilst design guidance focuses on the residual structural capacity of timber elements exposed to a ‘standard fire’, the fundamental characteristics of CLT’s performance in fire, such as ignition, flame spread, delamination, and extinction are not currently considered. This paper focuses on the issues relating to increased fuel load due to a combustible building material itself. Whilst an increasingly common protection solution to this conundrum is to fully encapsulate the timber elements, there is limited supporting test data on this approach. Through understanding these concepts from a fundamental, scientific perspective, the behaviour can be properly understood, and, rather than limiting design, can be incorporated into design to satisfy suitable performance criteria.
In this paper therefore, the concept of auto-extinction – a phenomenon by which a timber sample will cease flaming when the net heat flux to the sample drops below a critical value – is explored experimentally and related to firepoint theory. A series of c.100 small scale tests in a Fire Propagation Apparatus (FPA) have been carried out to quantify the conditions under which flaming extinction occurs. Critical mass loss rate at extinction is shown to occur at a mass flux of 3.5g/m2s or a temperature gradient of 28K/mm at the charline. External heat flux and airflow were not found to affect the critical mass loss rate at the range tested. This approach is then compared with a compartment fire with multiple exposed timber surfaces. With further testing and refinement, this method may be applied in design, enabling architects’ visions of exposed, structural timber to be safely realised.
A series of compartment fire experiments has been undertaken to evaluate the impact of combustible cross laminated timber linings on the compartment fire behaviour. Compartment heat release rates and temperatures are reported for three configuration of exposed timber surfaces. Auto-extinction of the compartment was observed in one case but this was not observed when the experiment was repeated under identical condition. This highlights the strong interaction between the exposed combustible material and the resulting fire dynamics. For large areas of exposed timber linings heat transfer within the compartment dominates and prevents auto-extinction. A framework is presented based on the relative durations of the thermal penetration time of a timber layer and compartment fire duration to account for the observed differences in fire dynamics. This analysis shows that fall-off of the charred timber layers is a key contributor to whether auto-extinction can be achieved.
An experimental study of the influence of an exposed combustible ceiling on compartment fire dynamics has been performed. The fire dynamics in compartments with combustible cross-laminated timber ceilings vs non-combustible reinforced concrete ceilings in otherwise identical compartments with three different ventilation factors were investigated. The experimental results are compared against predictions from two theoretical models for compartment fire dynamics: (a) the parametric fire model given in EN 1991-1-2, and (b) a model developed at Technische Universität Braunschweig, which are the parametric fire models currently used in Germany. It is confirmed that the introduction of a combustible timber ceiling leads to higher temperatures within the enclosure, both under fuel-controlled and ventilation-controlled scenarios. It is also demonstrated that the theoretical models considered in this article require refinement in order to adequately represent all relevant scenarios when combustible ceilings are present. A refinement of the German model, by adding the fuel from the combustible ceiling to the occupancy fuel load, was shown to not adequately capture the response for the ventilation-controlled fires.
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Construction Materials
The fire performance of heavy timber frame structures is often limited by the poor fire performance of its connections. Conventional timber connections, dowelled or toothed plate connections typically use steel as a connector material. In a fire, the steel parts rapidly conduct heat into the timber, leading to reduced fire performance. Replacing metallic connectors with alternative non-metallic, low thermal conductivity connector materials can, therefore, lead to improved connection performance in fire. This paper presents an experimental study into the fire performance of metal-free timber connections comprising a hot-pressed plywood flitch plate and glass-fibre-reinforced polymer dowels. The thermal behaviour of the connections at elevated temperatures is studied using a standard cone calorimeter apparatus and a novel heat transfer rate inducing system. The latter is a fire testing system developed at the University of Edinburgh. The mechanical behaviour of the connection during severe heating was also studied using an environmental chamber at temperatures up to 610°C. The results demonstrate that heat transfer in the non-metallic connections is governed by the thermal properties of the timber, resulting in significant enhancements in connection fire performance.
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.
Modern building construction is increasingly applying laminated timber products as structural members for larger and more ambitious projects, both commercial and residential. As a consequence, designers require reliable knowledge and design tools to assess the structural capacity of laminated mass timber elements in fire. This paper reviews and assesses available data and methods to design for fire resistance of laminated mass timber compression elements. Historical data from fire resistance tests is presented and compared against the available design calculation methods. The underlying assumptions of the thermal and structural analyses applied within the presented calculation methodologies are discussed. The resulting meta-analysis suggests that the available methods are all able to make reasonable predictions (with an average mean absolute error (MAPE) of 22% across methods) of the fire resistance of glued-laminated columns exposed to standard fires; however, the available methods for CLT walls give inconsistent (MAPE of 46% across all methods and 30% excluding extreme outliers) and potentially non-conservative results (up to 88% of investigated cases are statistically non-conservative). Additional research on loaded compression elements is therefore needed.