Industry defends timber construction method as official statistics revealed
Timber frame fires ‘more damaging’
Fires in timber frame buildings are more likely to spread than those in other building types, government figures have revealed.
The Communities and Local Government department released data on fires across England from April 2009 to March 2010 last week. The information included an analysis of timber-framed buildings for the first time.
The figures were published only four days after Strathclyde Fire and Rescue was called to a part-constructed timber frame four-storey block of 60-flats being built by private developer Strathclyde Homes in the Yoker area of Glasgow on Tuesday last week. Forty firefighters battled to bring the blaze at the private development under control to stop it spreading to nearby flats.
Inside Housing highlighted concerns about timber frame buildings after a huge fire in November last year spread from a construction site of half-finished flats to two adjacent blocks in north Peckham, London.
The Peckham blaze led to a meeting between the Chief Fire Officers Association, officials from the Communities and Local Government department and manufacturers’ body the UK Timber Frame Association towards the end of last year to discuss measures to improve building site safety. In December last year, the UKTFA launched an audit scheme, Site Safe, to improve safety on timber frame building sites (Inside Housing, 21 December 2009).
The CLG’s new data adds weight to those concerns. There were 50 fires in timber frame buildings that were under construction in 2009/10 - and 400 in other types of building under construction. It found that the ‘ratio of fires in timber framed buildings compared to fires in buildings of no special construction is much higher’.
The department said there had been 802 fires in fully built timber frame buildings during the same period. The total number of house fires was 39,000.
It said that ‘fires in timber-framed dwellings do tend to have a greater area of fire and heat damage than fires in dwellings of no special construction’ and that the differences were ‘unlikely to be the result of chance variation’.
Of the 802 fires, 175 had heat and flame damage of more than 20 square metres - 49 of which were in housing.
Brendan Sarsfield, chief executive of 22,500-home housing association Family Mosaic, said the fires had not put them off timber frame buildings.
‘We have had really good quality products at the end of the day,’ he said. ‘Since the fires we have had greater processes of health and safety on timber frame sites,’ he added.
The UKTFA said the interpretation of the data from the report had been ‘scaremongering at best’. Geoff Arnold chair of UKTFA, said: ‘The data shows that of 34,783 dwelling fires in the UK only 359 were timber frame which is about one per cent of the total.’ One in four homes in England are timber frame and more than 70 per cent in Scotland. Mr Arnold added: ‘How can we knock timber frame as a construction method when the majority of serious fires in dwellings were something other than timber frame?’
CLG statistics from April 2009 to March 2010
number of fires in fully constructed timber frame buildings
number of timber frame fires causing more than 20m2 of heat and flame damage
number of fires in timber frame buildings under construction
number of fires in other types of building under construction