Superb article and tackles some of the myths quite nicely. In many of our mass timber projects it quickly becomes evident that fire is a highly emotive topic for many stakeholders, without necessarily the benefit of science. Perversely on sprinklers, while they absolutely provide excellent protection, we have encountered an attitude from insurers that they generate more headaches than fire as water damage is often more difficult to remedy than either a minor fire or indeed a total loss.

Expand full comment

Thanks Brian, this is pretty comprehensive. I have a few comments:

-Base language of the International Residential Code mandates sprinkler systems for single family homes. I think every state declines this provision of the code, although specific communities may mandate it, like Scotsdale. As an architect I've never had a client request a fire sprinkler system nor have I recommended one. Despite purported low initial cost for a system, the fire risk profile for a single family home is very low and risk insurance coverage doesn't seem to incentivize it. Maintenance of the system, and possibility of water damage are risk factors that

increase over time. On that note....

Age of a structure is fundamental to fire risk, and the data you cite backs that up. I was particularly fascinated by the examples of older homes in the WUI having higher rates of loss, which might be a consequence of more mature landscaping fuel loads as well as extra flammable exterior coverings and details. On the multi-family side I think a deeper dive into the data will demonstrate that older vintage structures that have between 2 and 10 units comprise the bulk of deaths and property losses. This is consistent with what I read in the papers about local fires. New, large scale, multifamily structures are all sprinkler protected and are usually built to Type 5A construction standards. There have been some notable fires of these while they're under construction, but haven't resulted in loss of life (and might not have made the data because they weren't actually buildings.

Expand full comment