FIRE RESISTANCE IN TIMBER FRAME CONSTRUCTION - A CASE STUDY
The Sorting House
(22-03-2010) by Chris Thorpe
is one of Manchester's most central and desirable residential developments, providing 104 one and
two-bedroom duplex apartments around a central courtyard garden and with basement car parking.
The development is a conversion and substantial four storey timber frame extension of one of central Manchester's landmark
buildings, the turn of the century Royal Mail Sorting Office. The development was completed in 2003 and is called The
Sorting House, Manchester.
Disaster strikes at 2am
Very early on a Tuesday morning in July 2005, the tenant in one of the top floor apartments discovered that fire had broken
out in the bedroom - almost certainly a result of candles left unattended on a ledge.
The fire was very serious, consuming furnishings and personal belongings within just a few minutes and creating an
extremely ferocious fire that blew out the windows and destroyed pretty much everything in the room.
Thankfully, the tenant escaped with her life although she suffered from the effects of smoke inhalation - by far the most
common and dangerous effect of most house fires.
The fire brigade was able to contain the fire within just one part of the apartment and extinguish it. Within a short time,
loss adjusters and fire investigators arrived to examine the apartment and assess the extent of the damage.
What they saw was not pretty. But to their delight, they found that the walls and ceiling had remained completely intact - behind
the burned plasterboard they found the timber frame structure and insulation in pristine condition, completely unaffected by the inferno.
The concierge at The Sorting House said: "It's amazing. When we pulled away the damaged plasterboard, we realized that the
fire had failed to damage the timber frame structure underneath. Repairs are starting and will be completed pretty quickly
and easily, I expect. It has been a huge reassurance to many of the residents - nobody can tell us that timber frame
buildings are any more vulnerable to fire than any other buildings now. I'm really impressed."
The experience in Manchester confirms the results of fire tests by independent scientists at the Building Research
Establishment (BRE), which show that the fire resistance of a modern timber frame structure is achieved by a combination
of the timber structure itself, the internal lining material and the insulation. In all these elements, a well built timber
frame home will meet all current Building Regulations and Standards in the UK.