Modernisation of fire safety regulations supports Finland’s wood construction industry

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The working group also suggests a number of other substantial improvements to the status of wood in the building code. 

The working group submitted its report to Minister of Housing Jan Vapaavuori on 1 Dec 2010.

Wood is an ecological and safe construction material

“Substantial investments are required for the establishment of a globally pioneering wood construction industry and these cannot be made without clear and unambiguous building regulations. Minister Vapaavuori has taken on a key challenge that is hampering the development of wood construction, and the working group he appointed has done excellent work in its search for answers to this question. If the working group’s proposal is implemented, it would be possible to build four-storey wooden houses without installing automated water fire extinguishing systems, in addition to which the construction of up to eight-storey wooden-framed buildings would be allowed in our country. Building single-family homes out of wood is already an established part of Finnish culture and now it will become possible to expand wood construction into large multi-storey developments and public buildings as well. Together, these segments account for the largest volume share of all construction activity,” says Antro Säilä, Director of the Business Environment and Innovation sector of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.

The modernisation of building regulations and especially of their fire safety provisions creates an opening for the development of internationally competitive wood construction in Finland. The project, which Minister Vapaavuori launched to strengthen the operating prerequisites for wood construction, has the aim of promoting eco- and energy-efficient construction while maintaining existing high standards of fire safety.

Modernisation to harmonise regulations

In addition to the frames of multi-storey buildings, the proposal would enable wood to be used in the exterior cladding and exterior wall structures of concrete-framed buildings as well as allow the construction of additional floors on multi-storey apartment buildings. Opportunities for using wood will also be improved by harmonising the fire safety regulations of hall-type buildings. Furthermore, the working group proposes that the fire safety equipment requirements of buildings be made more uniform and that the mandatory distances between buildings in dense and low-rise housing areas be put under review along with some other measures. 

The keys to progress are now in the hands of the Ministry of the Environment, which is tasked with finalising the unanimous working group’s paper into a bill proposal. The requirements on automated water fire extinguishing systems, the dimensioning of protective cladding for bearing structures as well as the treatment of solid wooden bearing wall structures still need to be specified. According to the working group, the technical properties of insulation materials have a substantial effect on the environmental impact of buildings during different phases of their lifespan.

Workable solutions, which would classify the most environment-friendly insulation materials into category A as required under building regulations, have not yet been identified, however. 

Further information:
Antro Säilä, Finnish Forest Industries Federation, tel. +358 9 132 6633
Mikko Viljakainen, Finnish Forest Industries Federation, tel. +358 9 132 6625
Pekka Nurro, Finnish Forest Industries Federation, tel. +358 9 1326681