The Timber Frame Debate
The Great Fire of London was the catalyst to the first debate regarding timber framed constructions. After the event the 1667 Rebuilding Act stated that buildings were to be made of either brick or stone, timber buildings were entirely forbidden.
Fast forward 300 years to the late nineties and it appears the risk has been negated. A relaxing of the 167 act and improved, safer methods of construction has given the green light for timber framed buildings to become popular once more. An amalgamation of causes has provoked this resurgence in building practices such as cost considerations, speed of construction and improving green credentials. For example, timber frame buildings generate 44% less CO2 than a traditional brick and block house and has inbuilt thermal properties, helping to reduce fuel bills, tackling both climate change and fuel poverty.
Although it can be argued that no building materials are fully resistant to fire – brick can disintegrate, concrete can cause explosive spalling and steel can buckle – the major concern is the extent of the destruction in timber framed buildings and the possibility if spread of fire to neighbouring buildings particularly at the construction stage.
A recent underwriting bulletin by Allianz cites wider liabilities such as burning embers…spread from the contract site to neighbouring properties’. This was one of the primary contributing factors for the widespread destruction during the Great Fire of London and is one we ignore at our peril.
However, the building of timber framed building is not going to go away. With public spending slashed and the housing shortage crisis deepening, the housing sector needs to look at cheaper and more efficient ways of building. Timber framed buildings certainly fit he bill.
In reality, all sectors involved in the building process need to ensure stringent risk assessments and management in the construction and maintenance of timber framed buildings.
The UK Timber Frame Association suggests a typical risk assessment should include precautions such as:
• No smoking
• No exposed flames (barbeques etc)
• Fire extinguishers in strategic locations
• Controlling use of blow torches (training or operatives)
• Security and checking against vandalism and arson attacks
• Removal of timber shavings, paper and inflammable materials
• Skips containing flammable materials should be secure and stored away from the frame
• Ensure gas cylinders and other dangerous substances are well away from the building
• Providing safe egress routes in the event of any emergency
• Providing the local fire and police with information about the site and emergency procedures
• Undertaking a checking procedure to ensure the procedures are followed, noting risks and issues.
The UKTFA goes on to say that by ensuring timber frame is procured from registered UKFTA members, it will warrant quality control, site safety and adherence to the UKFTA Sitesafe scheme.
Insurers have not withdrawn cover from timber framed buildings and nor does it look likely that they will. It is more likely that they will take a similar approach to that of Allianz who will ‘consider specific additional policy conditions and limitations designed to control the risks relating to timber framed construction…surveys on larger sites and…implementation of enhanced risk management practices’.
For more information – www.allianzengineering.co.uk
UK Timber Frame Association – www.ukfa.com