Codes & Standards, Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighting

Picking Apart Toothpick Towers

Issue 4 and Volume 169.

Spreading like killer bees from the south, lightweight wood multiple dwellings have spread northward over the past 40 years and are now found throughout the United States. Unfortunately for us, our model building codes don’t make a distinction between these “toothpick towers” and “traditional” conventional wood framing, particularly when it comes to allowable area and height. Over the past several years, our building codes have been weakened, allowing bigger and taller wood apartment and condominium dwellings, increasing the complexities and dangers we face. Photos by author. Photo 1. Here is the most significant problem with toothpick towers: the enormous unsprinklered void spaces in the floors and attic. There is plenty of fuel and surface area to spread the fire quickly in these inaccessible areas. Don’t depend on draftstopping to slow the fire down for you; our fire history has shown its unreliability because of poor installation and maintenance. Photo 2.…

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