I note the fears expressed by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) as to the additional fire risk resulting from the current trend towards the use of prefabrication (AJ 27.5.04). This warning is certainly timely in the Irish context, in that a recently published Timber Frame 2000 Housing Consortium Report, commissioned by the Irish minister for the environment, recommends changes to the Irish Building and Fire Regulations so as to make way for four-storey timber-frame buildings - typically apartment dwellings. A parallel proposal by the consortium recommends the use of timber staircases in buildings up to 10m high.
In a submission to the Irish Department of the Environment (DoEHLG) on behalf of the Irish Concrete Federation, I pointed out that, despite proposing major changes to the fire regulations, the Irish Timber Frame Consortium had not even included 'fire' as a heading in its report, and that there has not been adequate research carried out into the actual fire performance of two-storey timber-frame dwellings.
In my submission, I also included statistics from the Swiss Cantonal Insurance Company, based on accurate information accumulated over a 10-year period, which shows that the occurrence of fire is 1.6 times greater in timber-frame dwellings, that the fire damage is 2.47 times more, and that the number of deaths per million is 2.82 times greater, compared to concrete dwellings. It is my view that the comments of the ABI should be taken on board on this side of the Irish Sea.
Brian Murphy, technical manager, Irish Concrete Federation, Dublin