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Canadian Wood Council responds to safety questions following fire

The Canadian Wood Council has come out batting after a spate of media reports questioned the safety of using wood-frame construction for six-storey buildings. A fire in Richmond, B.C. that destroyed the Remy housing development under...


The Canadian Wood Council has come out batting after a spate of media reports questioned the safety of using wood-frame construction for six-storey buildings. A fire in Richmond, B.C. that destroyed the Remy housing development under construction had spurred the media questions about recent changes to B.C.’s building code that allows wood frame construction for mid-rise buildings.

Michael Giroux, President of the Canadian Wood Council, issued a statement on May 18 and said that pending the results of the official fire investigation he would “like to set the record straight on some key facts about wood construction.” He pointed out that since the Remy fire occurred when the building was still under construction, the fire safety features such as fire doors, sprinklers and gypsum board protection were not in place.

Giroux’s also said that modern wood structures are “better able to resist seismic forces than other building materials.” He said, “Wood’s flexibility, its high strength-to-weight ratio and its high energy-absorption capacity and ductile behaviour make it a safe choice.”

Accompanying Giroux’s letter was a series of quotations supporting the use of wood structures. They included a quote from Thomas Leung, P.Eng., of thomas Leung Structural Engineering of Vancouver: “”When a wood building project is completed with all fire protection measures in place, the building should perform as well as any building constructed with other materials during a fire.  A wood building with fire-rated gypsum wall board and fire suppression system installed is as safe as any building constructed with other materials – whether it’s a two-storey, four-storey or six-storey building. Also, wood frame buildings, being much lighter than other material-type buildings, have superior performance in an earthquake.”  Wood fibre is produced by nature and has the least carbon footprint amongst all building material. It is the only building material that one can touch and feel its charm and warmth. I have no concern in continuing to specify wood in future projects.” Also with Giroux’s letter was a document entitled “Wood Construction and Fire Safety,” that the Canadian Wood Council has assembled following the Remy fire.

The paper’s list of “key facts” included the following:

–“The fire resistance of wood-frame walls or floors depends primarily on the gypsum board used to shield the structural wood members from the effects of heat. Gypsum board has a non-combustible core and, when exposed to fire, it absorbs large amounts of heat as its water content is released.”

–“Steel is a noncombustible material but can quickly lose its strength when exposed to the high temperatures of a fire. Similar to wood-frame assemblies, light-frame steel assemblies must also be protected from direct exposure to fire, usually by gypsum board, to prolong the time before collapse occurs in a fire.”

–“Newer insulated concrete form (ICF) systems use combustible foam. These concrete form systems also need gypsum board or some other form of fire protection to limit involvement of the foam in a fire and to retard the spread of fire when such walls are used in multi-family residential buildings.”

To see the full document, click here.