Fire Safety Challenges of Tall Wood Buildings

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: "Fire Safety Challenges of Tall Wood Buildings" (PDF)
Robert Gerard and David Barber - Arup North America Ltd; Armin Wolski, San Francisco, CA
Date of issue: December 2013


Recent architectural trends include the design and construction of increasingly tall buildings with structural components comprised of engineered wood referred to by names including; cross laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), or glued laminated timber (Glulam). Construction is currently underway on a 10-story apartment building in Melbourne, Australia, with taller structures up to 30 stories under design in Norway, Austria and Vancouver. These buildings are cited for their advantages in sustainability resulting from the use of wood as a renewable construction material. Claims have been made that they are designed to be safer than buildings fabricated using structural steel due to the formation of an insulating char layer that forms on the perimeter of a laminated wood beam when exposed to a fire.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation initiated this project to gain an understanding of the performance of these buildings under credible fire scenarios to ensure the safety of the occupants to emissions and thermal hazards, as well as the property protection of the building and nearby structures. The goals of this first phase project was to gather information and data from relevant studies and analyze the knowledge gaps. In addition, a framework prioritization of research needs was produced.

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