Risk Mitigation

Wooden buildings and fire safety on facades

Credits: Fotolia.

As multi-story buildings develop, timber-frame designs for these buildings can now rely on recognized, controlled solutions regarding the risk of fire spreading on the facade. In January 2017, the French Interior Ministry issued recommendations on this topic, developed by the FCBA (French Technology Institute for Forestry, Cellulose, Wood Construction and Furniture) and the CSTB, together with CODIFAB (a French furnishing and wood business association) and France BOIS Forêt (a French timber industry organization). Compiled in an online guide, these recommendations help stakeholders gain new skills and foster the development of sustainable buildings.

The challenge: facade fires

In the past few years, fires have affected skyscrapers around the world, from Istanbul to Dubai. The prevention of these accidents, and particularly the risk of fire spreading on facades, is also of concern in France. The French public authorities have sought to increase the reliability of construction systems applied to facades, by disseminating recommendations. The Department for Housing, Urban Planning and Landscape (DHUP) relays the message to timber companies. Although it is combustible, wood also offers excellent fire resistance in comparison with other construction materials. Ongoing guidance requires testing the performance of wood construction solutions in terms of the risk of fire spreading on facades.

A guide for the industry

The FCBA (French Technology Institute for Forestry, Cellulose, Wood Construction and Furniture) and the CSTB, partners in Synerbois, conducted testing in 2012 and 2015, funded by CODIFAB, France Bois Forêt and the DHUP, as part of Timber Plan I : “removing the obstacles to using wood in construction”. They also produced an overview of construction solutions that limit the spread of fire from one level of a building to another, or laterally. These solutions are presented in a guide on wooden facades. The Interior Ministry, which is responsible for fire regulations, confirmed that the guide would be taken into account in Technical Instruction 249.
> Guide: Wood construction and the spread of fire on facades
Information memo: fire protection of wood facades

For market stakeholders

The recommendations on wood construction help create a climate of trust between the stakeholders of the market. They apply, for instance, to the Call for Interest “Pilot sites for residential wooden buildings,” launched jointly by the Ministries of Agriculture and Housing in June 2016, and managed by the AdivBois association. The aim is to support demonstration projects of tall buildings, using technical and architectural innovations involving wood. This initiative is part of an urban planning strategy aiming for space-efficient buildings that are respectful of the environment and safe for users.

The guide on “Wood construction and the spread of fire on facades” is for professionals who are involved in wood construction. It is deemed equivalent to an assessment issued by a laboratory. The relevant facades are made of rainscreen cladding used on load-bearing or non-load-bearing walls with a timber frame, or made of single-piece wood panels, such as glued or nailed solid wood panels, as well as masonry or reinforced concrete components. They concern premises open to the public (ERP) and residential buildings with more than 3 floors.