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Thread: Large new wood-framed buildings and fire safety

  1. #1
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Large new wood-framed buildings and fire safety

    Am I not the only one here whom is at least somewhat concerned about the proliferation of new mid-rise (upwards of five floors) buildings being built out of wood and issues relating to fire safety? Another under-construction massive four-story wood-framed building went 'poof' last night, believed caused by a propane leak/explosion.

    http://www.sheboygan-press.com/apps/...E0101/70319020

    The article says that even though only the top floor was burning at the time, the Sheboygan, WI Fire Department wrote the building off upon their arrival and concentrated on protecting nearby properties.

    Mike

  2. #2
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Without a question, a tragedy.

    But isn't this better addressed in the building and fire codes rather than land use and zoning regulations? Sounds like construction-related sloppiness.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    Without a question, a tragedy.

    But isn't this better addressed in the building and fire codes rather than land use and zoning regulations? Sounds like construction-related sloppiness.
    Perhaps it is, but these buildings do have an aura of 'cheapness' and non-permanence to them and this might be just a personal lament. Older buildings of similar size seem to me to be much more substantial in their construction, often built of concrete and/or steel, instead of the cheaper stuff of today.

    I would not be fully comfortable living in a large newer wood-framed building of this sort of design for that reason, too.

    BTW, I was looking for a sub-forvm to place this and felt that this one was the best match.

    Mike

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    We take the issue of truss frame construction pretty serious in the fire services. My department just finished a 6 week video serise on modern building construction and fire related deaths and injuries. Even roofs are being built without a ridge beam and rafters can be 16 - 24" on center. The minute you have any heat, or worse fire, collect in an attic the gusset plates or groove joints weaken almost immediately. No chief will put his men in harms way for this type of structure unless everyone is not accounted for. The possibility of sudden failure without warning is too great. It's a shame we've come to this point of contructing homes and not just single family, 12 plex townhomes and 16 plexes too are being built with the same light weight construction. There is no answer, however sprinkler systems being required in all new construction can help by controlling a small fire until the FD gets there.
    @GigCityPlanner

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Am I not the only one here whom is at least somewhat concerned about the proliferation of new mid-rise (upwards of five floors) buildings being built out of wood and issues relating to fire safety? Another under-construction massive four-story wood-framed building went 'poof' last night, believed caused by a propane leak/explosion.

    http://www.sheboygan-press.com/apps/...E0101/70319020

    The article says that even though only the top floor was burning at the time, the Sheboygan, WI Fire Department wrote the building off upon their arrival and concentrated on protecting nearby properties.

    Mike
    Isn't wood frame construction supposed to be environmentally sustainable? Steel is a non-renewable resource which requires intensive mining and processing. Concrete, likewise, requires mining and releases HUGE amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when it is processed.

    The article describes this building as under construction and not completed. It also sounds like there were a number of explosions (which suggest some sort of gas leak or something). My guess is the uncompleted nature of the building had more to do with the unwillingness of the firefighters to go in there and also was the reason why it burned to the ground (sprinklers not on, fireproofing not installed, alarm system not set up, highly flammable construction materials around, etc.).

    RichmondJake is probably right that this is a fire code issue. I'm sure mid-rise wood structures can be built safely, as long as there are the right regulations.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    If you occupy a buliding constructed of wood truss, you can pretty much be assured that unless your a kid, you're on your own to get out in a fire.

    Alot of places placcard the building too.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff View post
    Alot of places placcard the building too.
    Required in a lot of places, you may see these triangular placards on buildings or subdivision signs. They are there to warn firefighters of truss roofs or floors.

    Click image for larger version

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    @GigCityPlanner

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jkellerfsu's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by brandonmason View post
    Isn't wood frame construction supposed to be environmentally sustainable?
    Admittedly, not even remotely close to an expert, but is wood sustainable design?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by jkellerfsu View post
    Admittedly, not even remotely close to an expert, but is wood sustainable design?
    I'm not an expert either, but I've heard that before. This report seems to back it up, although it seems to have been financed by the lumber industry.

  10. #10
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jkellerfsu View post
    Admittedly, not even remotely close to an expert, but is wood sustainable design?
    It can be if you use recycled wood or wood certified through the Forest Stewardship Council. Of course, you can also find recycled steel, but I'm unaware of any certifications for that or whether it has been applied in construction.

    While stick construction of buildings like these make me nervous, a well-enforced building construction code, fire code & life/safety code should take care of the risks. We have a four story vertical mixed use building done using wood and haven't encountered any problems. I remember one of our inspectors commenting on how interesting it is to do an inspection on a wood structure that large.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Another that I've been seeing a lot of around here lately are commercial buildings that are built of pre-fabricated wood wall panels that are assembled to form the outside walls of the buildings and then covered with a thin masonry veneer in such a manner that the they look like solid cinderblock walls. These buildings come complete with the wood roof trusses, too.

    They redefine the concept of the 'throwaway' building and are sprouting like weeds in the commercial sprawl part of the unincorporated township area just west of Appleton. At least the big mall and larger big-box buildings that they surround are of honest steel and cinderblock or concrete panel construction.

    Mike

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Am I not the only one here whom is at least somewhat concerned about the proliferation of new mid-rise (upwards of five floors) buildings being built out of wood and issues relating to fire safety?
    Most anything 5+ stories won't be wood in most of the country, especially in the West. I'm not worried: anything that large would have sprinklers once it's actually occupied.

    Regardless, building codes have already made mid-rise construction nearly prohibitively expensive. Requiring anything over three floors to be steel (or more likely reinforced concrete, since masonry just ain't happening) will send us further down that unfortunate slope.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Stick built building can be not more than 40ft high in DC. Since we have a very restrictive height limit (130ft) almost everything is either steel or reinforced concrete.

    Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world. You actually need steel to make steel.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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