How Lumber People Regard Fire Prevention
Lumbermen Favor Fire Protection Ideas—Protection of Lumber by Use of Metal Lath—Fire Resistance Shown by the Underwriters’ Test—Reform in Residence Construction
MUCH has been published in FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING in regard to the construction of buildings from a fire proof and fire resistant standpoint, but the following paper is interesting from another angle as showing the viewpoint of the lumber manufacturers and as setting forth methods of rendering frame construction safer and more fire resistant. The paper was read by Mr. Clay before the annual meeting of the Southern Pine Association:
When the invitation of the Southern Pine Association to speak before this convention came I regretted that I was not an orator so that I could easily convince you of the advantages that will accrue to the lumber industry by increasing the standard of fire protection recommended for houses in which your material is used. Since I have been here and met such a splendid set of men, including those in the association office, delegates to the convention and the editors of the lumber papers, my wishes have changed completely and I now hope only that I have the ability to express my appreciation of the cooperative attitude which is being displayed on all sides. For, as you realize, metal lath has in many quarters been considered as a competitor of your material.
Metal Lath Does Not Compete With Wood Lath
Metal lath is not a competitor of any building material, but is supplementary to plaster, brick, concrete, tile and lumber. It is not in the largest sense even a competitor of wood lath—there are other materials, however, that are—metal lath is a material which, if used in certain vulnerable parts of wood construction, makes it safe to use wood lath in the greater part. Such a building is structurally safe and worthy of high regard by architect, owner, lawmaker, fire preventionist and yourselves.
In an address before the National Brick Manufacturers’ Association, Prof. Ira M. Woolson, consulting engineer National Board of Fire Underwriters, said to them: “As usually constructed I doubt if the average brick building as a whole has a fire resistance of over 10 per cent, of that of its walls.” We must give them great credit in this line for subsequent advancement in their recommendations.
Fire Resistance Shown by Underwriters’ Tests
You all are familiar with cities where masonry wall buildings are permitted in locations where walls of lumber are discredited, even after we have demonstrated that lumber walls protected by stucco and metal lath will withstand a rigid fire test.
A preliminary report from the Underwriters’ Laboratories on back-plastered metal lath and stucco construction with Portland cement, indicates that this finish can be expected to furnish a substantial barrier to the passage of flame into the hollow spaces back of it for about one hour when exposed to fire of the degree of severity to which stucco finished buildings are likely to be subjected under average exterior fire exposures:
“This finish can be expected to provide sufficient heat insulation to prevent the ignition of the wood supports to which it is attached for about one hour when exposed to fire of the degree of severity to which stucco finished buildings are likely to be subjected under average exterior fire exposures.”
Exterior Protection Widens Field for Use of Lumber
The fire protective value of exterior walls in backplastered frame construction with metal lath and Portland cement is as great as masonry or any other exterior wall where windows are permitted, and if similar construction is used on the interior of such exterior walls they are entitled to an hour for both exterior and interior fires—a sufficient measure of fire protection for any type of building for residential occupancy within or outside of the fire limits of a city.
Lumber can therefore be protected to such an extent that it is safe to use in any section of a city where wood interiors and masonry walls with windows in them are permitted. A good example of the possibility of widening the use of lumber was given recently at the Chicago conference of building officials. During this conference the building officials attended a test at the Underwriters’ Laboratories similar to the one just spoken of. The long duration of lumber protected in this way was appreciated by the building officials, and one of them volunteered that in his city there was an intermediate zone in which he believed that certain buildings now restricted to masonry walls could safely use protected lumber.
Metal Lath Structure Used to Fireproof Steel
The steel fireproof buildings (such as the Hotel Grunewald, in which this splendid convention is being held) are constructed so that each column or girder is individually protected by an incombustible insulating material. This would not be economical in the case of joists and studs, so we must surround the entire bearing partition or cover the entire ceiling with such a material.
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Plaster is the best material for this purpose, but it must be put on a base which will hold it in position after the fire has started to disintegrate it. Metal lath prevents the fire from attacking the wood behind it for over one hour. It is possible, therefore, to protect a joisted and studded building for a full hour. This, fire prevention engineers believe, is necessary as a factor of safety.
Should Study Fireproofing of Frame Structures
Your industry has done splendid work in co-operation with various insurance and fire prevention agencies on mill construction and placed this type of a building in high public esteem. There is no reason why the neglected construction, consisting of joists and studs, which affects such a large percentage of the lives of the common people, should not be equally studied from a scientific standpoint and made equally as safe from fire. Single handed, the Associated Metal Lath Manufacturers have established the 1-hour rating for exterior stud walls, and every indication points to a 1-hour rating for interior bearing partitions, and I am asked to announce at this meeting that the National Lumber Manufacturers’ Association and ours will jointly apply to the Underwriters’ Laboratories for a test and rating on the other principal structural element in this type of building; namely, floors with wood joists protected by metal lath.
Applying Fire Prevention Engineering to Lumber
Fireproofing of lumber is an important engineering matter. There is neither honor nor profit in lagging behind in a movement where one should lead. The present situation is perhaps due to the fact that the lumber industry has but recently become an institution through the cooperative work of the strong regional and national associations, and more recently begun to devote funds for engineering study.
According to the statement of an engineer from one of your regional associations;
“The lumber industry has not given so much attention to the technical matters as the other chief structural material manufacturers—cement and steel —largely because of the fact that these two materials are in themselves manufactured products, in the making of which the producers have depended largely on chemists and engineers. Wood being already a finished product in its raw state did not require this technical help in the same way, and lumbering, being a widely distributed and pioneer industry, was developed largely from a practical standpoint.”
Fire Prevention is a Great Service to Humanity
You do not realize the power of your position for good. Coming down on the train to this convention with several lumbermen we found in the newspaper the following:
“One thousand in Texas town homeless after a fire. Seven business blocks and two hundred residences destroyed. Dawn today found Grand View, Tex., virtually in ruins, etc.”
This can be to you just another town destroyed. Or you can choose to consider it a responsibility—a neglected opportunity. You may gloss over the facts and the terrible fire losses in this country, or you can aid in improving conditions, but you can not fail to heed the cry of 15,000 persons burned to death each year in the United States, according to the most conservative estimates of the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
The Spanish Inquisition, which has earned the curse of three centuries, never burned more than one thousand persons at the stake in any one year, and yet the American loss of life through fire is fifteen times as great. The property loss in residences in 1917 was over sixty-six million dollars, or an equivalent of twenty-two thousand $3,000 homes, and yet the building industry can not possibly make up the present housing shortage in five years. Can any industry hesitate in taking a leading part in fire protection ?
Laws May Curtail Use of Unprotected Lumber
Fire prevention is more important than ever before and is being studied by more people, including the law makers, who will legislate against lumber with a greater vigor if lumber does not establish in the minds of all that it can be protected; that when protected it will withstand a fire of as long a duration as good engineering can demand, and that it is entitled to increased respect and wider use than now.
Shortage of Homes Demands Their Better Protection
Each man is coming to realize what fire means to him, because he is paying increased rentals due to housing shortage, and he knows that every house that burns down means one less place to live. To even maintain the present supply of housing we must construct 2,139,000 dwellings in the next five years, and to reduce the shortage to the condition prevailing in 1917 we must build 3,340,000 dwellings in the next five years. These figures do not allow for any loss by fire. Not only the individual but public sentiment as a powerful factor in public action is rapidly taking these matters into account and is grasping for any straw that will lessen the seriousness of the situation.
Lumber Dealers Favor Fire Prevention Ideas
Your dealers are heartily in favor of this idea. We recently sent out a questionnaire to find out whether or not they believed that the lumber interests would profit by the protection of frame construction against fire. Ninety-six and three-tenths per cent, of the replies that came in were favorable to fire prevention ideas. Some of them even went so far as to say that fire protection should be instituted whether it benefited the lumber interests or not, but fortunately it will benefit the lumber interests and will benefit the civic position the lumber dealers will be accorded by their fellow citizens.
Resolutions Call for More Adequate Fire Protection
This idea of protecting the combustible structural members of dwellings is being studied on all sides and no industry can enter it with a purer motive than the lumber industry itself. Recently, at the convention of the Ohio building supply dealers, then at the convention of the New England supply dealers, the following resolution was passed:
“Whereas, The housing shortage in the United States today creates a serious situation; and
“Whereas, The fire losses reported in 1917 to the National Board of Fire Underwriters amounted to $66,166,420 in 232,021 residences; and
“Whereas, The cost of material and labor is constantly mounting so that individual losses are likely to be greater year by year, cutting down our national resources to a tremendous extent and aggravating the housing situation to an unnecessary degree; be it therefore
“Resolved, That this association go on record as to the necessity of giving more adequate fire protection to the combustible members of residences; and be it further
“Resolved, That each member of this association be advised of the situation and be requested to advise prospective owners of the situation and furnish full information as to the best available methods of protecting such structures.”
This action was followed by a similar resolution at the Indiana Building Supply Dealers’ Association, so that it is plain to see the opportunity that presents itself to you.
Co-operate With Lumbermen to Study Fireproofing
We bring to you an offer of co-operation to study this problem from the standpoint of the public good to find how to give the nation the maximum of fire protection at minimum expense. As I said before, the protected wood exterior walls and interior bearing partitions have passed the 1-hour fire test, and your national association and the Associated Metal Lath Manufacturers are entering a joint test on floors. I can see ahead a vision of a residence of wood so designed that it will meet the most stringent building code requirements and be safer from fire than some so-called fireproof buildings.
Reform of Residence Construction is Called For
You have an opportunity before you, as the sales forces of my industry also have, which transcends the commercial interests of any trade. We, you and I, who have the permanent interest of the building industry at heart, must take the lead in working out residence construction reform. There is a market for all the wood that ought to be cut without using a stick of it in such a way as to materially add to the danger of fire. Wood is too economical and too important a structural material to be eliminated from modern construction, as I have repeatedly stated in public. It is beautiful, comfortable and homelike, with a friendly air that dates back to the days man lived in the woods and regarded a tall tree as the very trustiest friend in need. But there will soon be neither supply nor opportunity for its right use unless its wrong use is stopped.
There are influences at work outside of your industry to supplant your material. They will spend over five hundred thousand dollars this year, next year and the year after, popularizing other materials. You will naturally suffer in the most vulnerable points.
There is no advantage in refusing reform until revolution comes. The inside job of cleaning up by such studies as we are now jointly making is preferable. But you men on the firing line of your industry, and those who direct your efforts, will realize that wood construction can be protected from fire and that fireproofing interests such as ours are not seeking to attack you but are seeking to sell the idea of how safe wood can be made.
You and your dealers will welcome the day when you can tell the world that “The construction recommended by the National Lumber Manufacturers’ Association and the Southern Pine Association is more fire safe than ordinary competitive construction.”