What Norway could teach the UK about fire safety

“Timber can be a fire-safe building material at greater heights than new UK regulations realise. Just take a look at Norway…”

In the UK, authorities are considering restrictions on combustible wall materials (including timber) to dwellings that are less-than 11 metres tall. However, in Norway, the Mjostjarnet Tower stands a majestic 18 stories high – and wood wasn’t a problem. The UK’s view over fire safety is, understandably, a response to the tragic Grenfell Tower fire. But the ways in which other countries handle tall timber buildings prove that the material can be safe even at very great heights. Given timber’s potential to help fight climate change, this is a message that can’t be ignored.

The Mjostjarnet Tower is the world’s tallest residential wood building. And it is completely fire safe, meeting common sense standards and Norwegian regulations. Most of all, the Mjostjarnet Tower’s fire safety makes sense in light of the science, and it easily verifiable. None of this should be surprising – Norway does not have a reputation for having issues with fire safety.

Oystein Elgaas, a project architect on the Tower, said that it was designed to “withstand a complete fire […] That means a fire that’s allowed to develop freely without active firefighting efforts.” He went on to explain how that kind of safety is achievable:

“The fire safety report states that the main load bearing system must be designed to withstand 120 minutes of fire and secondary load bearing, such as floors, 90 minutes. This is principally achieved through the large dimensions of the timber and particularly the glulam frame – the fire resistance can be obtained by calculating the remaining cross-section after charring according to the Eurocode – and through design of the structural elements so that they do not compromise each other in the event of fire.”

Additionally, he noted that the building had multiple sprinklers and water sources, and said that “each room is constructed as a separate fire cell so flames can’t spread to the next.” A fire control room, replete with a graphical overview of the entire building to aid fast, intelligent, and efficient firefighting, and an alarm that transfers directly to the fire service, rounds out the building’s safety provision.

UK lawmakers should take a look at the way they do things in Norway. The result would be better fire safety for Great Britain, and a more proactive stance over global warming.

Whatever the government eventually decides, timber is still an essential material for use in construction below the 11 metre-level. You can help the environment as well as your customers when you use beautiful, ethically sourced, timber from Quercus. Call us on 0845 50 50 311 to discuss your project and find the timber that works for you and your customers.