Wood Frame Construction Is Safe, Really.

©. mariakray/Shutterstock

Wood construction of big buildings is catching on just about everywhere for good reasons: wood is renewable. In construction it is light, fast and less expensive than other materials. It's also just as safe- when it is finished.

However, every time there is a major fire in a wood framed building, the steel and concrete people come out and dance in the ashes and try and convince everyone that wood construction is inherently dangerous. The recent giant fire in Los Angeles isn't cool enough yet for them, but they will come, like they did in two recent Canadian fires.

But these are not fires in occupied buildings, but construction fires in buildings that do not yet have their fire suppression systems, drywall or fire separations. That's a tough problem. Most of these fires happen at night when nobody is around, and are caused by something smouldering away in a hidden spot, or by arson, as is suspected in Los Angeles; the usual strategy for dealing with this is more security.

floor system

© Intelligent Wood Systems

One British company has what might be a better idea.Intelligent Wood Systems (IWS) has developed a treatment for timber that acts as a flame retardant, a preservative and is water repellent. It reduces the "risk of fire to neighbouring buildings should a fire occur in a timber frame building under construction and improve the building fabric's defence against both accidental fire and arson attack."

building with IWS

© Intelligent Wood Systems

The wood is treated with boron but has no halogenated products, formaldehyde, heavy metal, phosphates or VOCs. It is then dyed purple so that it can be identified. It's all part of an engineered wood building system that the manufacturer says does not cost more than conventional untreated lumber. They have tested it and it works- it "reduces ignitability, fire propagation and the spread of flame." It also has better insect and moisture protection, so the benefits go beyond just fire safety. They also market a non-combustible Magnesium Oxide sheathing board that can replace OSB.


© Intelligent Wood Systems

So when the concrete and masonry people start showing those photos of the Los Angeles fire, (and they will) you can tell them that the wood industry is on the case. Building big out of wood is a new thing, and there is a learning curve. I suspect that a lot of people will be looking at approaches like this, thinking holistically about the whole problem.

More info (if you can figure out their website) at IWS FAST