Safety and minimising risk

As with any building material, safety is a priority. Read about how research and innovation is making timber a safer material and what the insurance sector needs to know about timber construction.

What You Should Know About Safety and Timber

All building materials are susceptible to damage in the event of a fire and react in different ways.

Timber is predictable. Wood has a slow charring rate, so we can predict its performance in the event of a fire. It can retain its structure for longer due to this slow charring rate.

This allows us to predict how long a timber will retain its structure in the event of a fire. It outperforms other materials, such as steel beams, in terms of retaining structure for a long period in the event of a fire.

During a fire resistance test by the American Wood Council, a 5-ply cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel wall was subjected to temperatures exceeding 1,800 Fahrenheit and the test specimen panel wall lasted 3 hours and 6 minutes – which outperforms the 2 hours needed for building safety regulations in America.

New products and new methods of construction have enabled the construction sector to use timber products in a wider variety of applications and building types. There are a variety of different scenarios where specifying fire retardant treated timber may be the best option for a project. Flame retardants can help to reduce the surface spread of flame, heat and smoke, slowing the development of afire and giving more time for occupants of a building to exit a building safely.

Timber Fire Doors are often the first line of defence in fires, and play a crucial safety role in the event of a fire. They’re a necessary specification component of any project. The British Woodworking Foundation (BWF) manage the Fire Door Alliance which champions third-party certification of fire doors in the UK.

All timber fire doors which underwent fire-resistance testing by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) were found to have met required standards, exceeding the minimum 30-minute burn time requirement. This is in direct contrast to glass reinforced polymer foam filled fire doors – three quarters of which failed MHCLG tests in results published in 2019. Source: BWF Fire Door Alliance

There are lots of resources to help specifiers, designers and builders to select the safest materials for each job and reduce risk. Some of the resources can be found below including the STA’s 16 Steps to Fire Safety.

Timber construction and insurance has had a tricky relationship in the past, but there is growing support and appetite within the insurance industry to insure more timber projects. Take a look at this interview from the Time for Timber campaign below which interviews Dominic Lion at Gallagher. The Time for Timber campaign is directed at the insurance sector, and a great hub of information for those in the sector who are looking to learn more about timber construction.