New publication provides guidance on fire safety for mass timber buildings

Engineering and sustainability consultancy Arup has released a new guide on the Fire Safe Design of Mass Timber Buildings, drawing on decades of global fire safety research.

The risk-based guidance document acknowledges the recent surge towards mass timber as an innovative and sustainable building material while also addressing the fire hazards posed by mass timber buildings, including “additional fuel load” when mass timber is exposed. In particular, it defines “key fire safety objectives and essential design features that should be considered for robust fire safety strategies”.

Offering recommended design features at residential, educational, and commercial buildings (up to 50m tall for residential and business use and up to 25m tall for education use) that have a mass timber structure, the guide seeks to answer the following questions:

  • Can mass timber remain exposed or does it require encapsulation?
  • Is automatic suppression system integration necessary?
  • Can mass timber be employed in external wall construction?
  • Is a single-stair building conducive to mass timber construction?

While it is aimed primarily at fire safety engineers, the document provides practical guidance for architects, clients, and contractors involved in designing and constructing mass timber buildings. Arup adds that it “serves as a resource to be used by anyone involved in the design and construction of mass timber buildings and has already informed the fire safety for multiple buildings”. Additionally, it has been written to be used in any statutory jurisdiction, taking into account the following fire safety goals:

  • Supporting safe evacuation and firefighting access.
  • Limiting fire growth within the fire compartment (slowing or preventing rapid fire growth).
  • Delivering a suitable period of structural fire resistance (based on the height and use of the building).
  • Limiting fire spread beyond the fire compartment (both to other areas of the building or to adjacent buildings)

Speaking in a recent Fire Safety Matters podcast episode, fire safety engineering lead at Arup, Judith Schulz said that the guide is a useful tool for countering the potential lack of knowledge around sustainable building materials: “As well as gaps in codes and regulations, there’s also a lack of knowledge among much of the design and construction community when it comes to designing fire-safe timber buildings. This means the opportunities for more sustainable construction are not currently being realised.

“We hope this guide will contribute towards accelerating a move away from carbon-intensive materials and realise a growth in fire-safe mass timber buildings, which offer great promise for reducing CO2 in low-to-medium-rise buildings.”

You can download the full guide from the Arup website here.


(Photograph by Arup)