Friday, August 21, 2015


Thursday night at the Planning Board I asked the question I had to ask about the two new buildings being fire safe in view of the many disastrous fires in the past few years in buildings of condos or apartments. Perhaps I did not word my question(s) right but I received a perfectly legitimate and correct reply; the building plans meet all the fire (state) codes.

I am sure that they will comply as did the Edgewater complex and other recent multi-dwelling condo or apartment developments that has suffered the 100% loss of the building in which the fire started.

The problem does not lie with the builders but with the minimal state code. There may be more than the required sprinklers and perhaps per code “some type of fire wall” between units, but the construction itself often leads to failure.

The question I should have asked was “Will these buildings be of the “fast wood construction”? This is important. Per SCOTT JOERGER: “Modern construction techniques and lightweight wood construction are not new. Wood roof trusses have been around since the 1960s.--- “Lightweight wood construction refers to engineered wood products used in modern wood-frame structures; they have less area mass and are lighter than components used to build older houses.”-- Today, wood trusses and wooden I-beams are used as framing or structural members; thin boards are used for sheathing or decking made of 4- by 8-foot oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood; and dimensional wood pieces are used for studs, joists, and beams that are different in size and time to failure under fire conditions than the wood components used prior to World War II.”

In addition, current building and construction techniques allow for a rapid spread and propagation of fire. Examples include attic and soffit vents, which draw in large quantities of fresh air, permit exterior fire to quickly enter the attic space, and burn easily in the truss space”—“A sprinkler system may or may not be present. If one is present, it is not usually in attic spaces,”

He goes on to describe the wood itself:” Today's structural support members made of dimensional wood we commonly refer to as "2 × 8" or "2 × 10" and the like are only somewhat better when compared to trusses and I-beam joists. These new dimensional wood pieces have less density and measure less than their names indicate. For example, the real size of a "2 × 8," commonly used for floor or ceiling joists, is 1½ inch × 7¼ inch when found in a structure. The decreased density has compromised the board's ability to hold up under fire conditions. Expect failure in less than 20 minutes on the ground floor with a raging fire in the open basement and unprotected floor supports.”

There are manufactures that claim their products are fire resistant, such as the binder in the panels is Boron not Formaldehyde. One claims their product "reduces ignitability, fire propagation and the spread of flame."

All may be true but I am not sure if the state code demands fir resistant breaks in the under roof space. Yes the building may have a “stone or brick facet” and an impressive lobby but beauty is only skin deep, it is what is underneath that is important. Fast wood construction saves the builder money and is within the law but it does represent a potential danger.

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