The fire service and sprinkler advocates are quick to say the same thing: The problem isn’t lightweight construction. The problem is what happens when lightweight construction is exposed to fire.
Lightweight construction is generally considered to be either wood frame or steel building materials, where the roof and/or floor supporting systems are constructed of lightweight prefabricated materials. Lightweight construction commonly uses “engineered lumber,” a term generally used to describe a wood structural member that is fabricated through use of bonded fibers and materials and that is usually put together as a composite joist or beam. Used extensively in today’s wood-frame construction are wooden I-beams. These typically consist of particle board and dimension lumber less than 2×4 inches to form the I-beam shape, and are often finger jointed and glued together to create longer length beams. Engineered lumber offers a great structural platform for the support of floor and roof assemblies. Such composite beams and joists allow builders to implement the long spans and open rooms that are prevalent in modern-era home construction.
In separate studies by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), findings confirmed what firefighters have long suspected about what happens to lightweight construction when it is exposed to fire. In repeated tests by both groups, under carefully controlled conditions, lightweight structures were found to burn faster and lose their structural integrity quicker—in some cases much quicker—than those built with dimensional lumber, with obvious ramifications for the fire service and for anyone who lives in a residence constructed with lightweight materials.
Be aware of the construction of your residence. A great way to help in early detection is through the use of interconnected smoke alarms that can decrease the time it takes for the residence to be alerted and make a timely escape. Getting out of your residence quickly in the event of a fire is more important now than it ever has been before. Remember to discuss your evacuation plan with all members of your family, have a predetermined meeting place and keep your smoke alarms working and in date. Stay Safe!