May 032019
 

The towering inferno that engulfed Notre Dame cathedral reminded the world how real wood can pose serious fire risks. This includes when its used as a decorative material in interior design. Luckily our faux products with the fire-rated option help minimize this risk.

Notre Dame cathedral burning
Fire tore through the timbers of Notre Dame, bringing the spire crashing down.
Photo: IAN LANGSDON, EPA-EFE

In April, a fire engulfed the world-famous cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, and tore through the 800-year-old structure in a matter of hours. Fortunately Paris’ fire service, the sapeurs-pompiers, were able to contain the blaze – but not before the 300-foot spire came crashing down, and almost all of the wooden interior of the cathedral was incinerated.

The towering spire and the wooden attic that supported it were part of the ancient structure not made from stone – as it would have been impossible to bridge the huge nave with lengths of stone, especially during the 12th century, when there were no mechanical cranes or anything like that. While this demonstrates the incredible ingenuity of the cathedral’s designers, it also illustrates one of the major liabilities that timber construction poses – the serious and ever-present risk of fire.

Fire remains a danger in homes and buildings today, although technology has done a lot to mitigate the risk. In addition to fire detection and suppression equipment – which can alert firefighters and begin containing a blaze without any human interaction – the materials modern houses are built of are generally chosen with the risk of fire in mind. Fire-Rated building materials, and the use of concrete and steel as structural supports, helps ensure that if a blaze does break out then there’s a lot less available for the flames to consume, and the structure will remain sound much longer than it would if made entirely from wood.

Notre Dame's attic before the April 2019 fire.
The attic of Notre Dame was made from timber, making it highly vulnerable to fire.
Credit: From Notre Dame De Paris/Maurice de Sully association

That being said – houses in North America, especially, continue to be made with traditional wooden framing methods, which are highly susceptible to fire. It’s something all homeowners need to be aware of.

That awareness comes into play when looking at decorative updates to your home; and is just one more reason why ‘going faux’ might be a smarter solution for your home than using real wood or timber to update your decor. Whichever way you look at it, when you add additional decorative wooden elements to your home, you’re adding a significant amount of combustible material that can fuel any house fire, increase the temperature of a fire, and contribute to the amount of damage caused.

Many of our faux wood products, including beams, mantels and planks are available with a fire-rated option.

Decorative wood trusses made from straight and arched beams with a fire-rated option.
Many of our faux beams and other products
are available with a Class A fire-rated option.

This option includes a number of additional elements designed to resist and withstand fire; meaning you can get the vividly realistic look of wood in your home, without the additional risk.

A fire-rated product utilizes a number of different technologies to become fire retardant. For example, fire-rated foam is a specialized blend of polyurethane that incorporates fire retardant materials throughout the faux wood beam; making the entire product resistant to flame. In independent laboratory testing, once the ignition flame was removed, fire-rated polyurethane didn’t continue to burn; meaning it can’t contribute to the spread of fire, or fuel it without an actual, flaming source of ignition.

Another product used to make synthetic wood beams resistant to fire is Fire-Rated Flame Stop. This is a post-treatment that bonds with the cellular structure of polyurethane foam, and creates a self-extinguishing reaction when the treated material comes into contact with an open flame. It literally puts out the fire, which is the complete opposite of real timber!

Fire-rated faux wood beams installed on a ceiling.

Additionally, Fire-Rated Flame Stop is non-toxic, non-combustible, non-carcinogenic and contains no polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. Given that one of the other advantages ‘going faux’ has over real or reclaimed wood is the absence of VOCs, this is very reassuring.

A coating of fire retardant Flame Seal® is another way to produce fire-retardant beams. This non-toxic, invisible coating blisters and bubbles in contact with an open flame, producing a physical barrier between the source of ignition and the beam itself; adding a third level of fire retardant protection.

Custom Timber mantel available with a fire-rated option
The Custom Timber mantel available with optional fire rating

Finally, the fact that our beams are hollow, and can be cut to size and function with a regular wood saw, has allowed many enterprising designers to run things like sprinkler pipes through the beams; so in addition to not contributing to the risk of fire, it can actually help beautify or conceal fire suppression equipment.

Sadly, fire remains one of the major risks for any homeowner; but with fire-rated faux wood, you at least have the option of adding an additional element of protection against an unforeseen blaze; while not compromising on the vividly-realistic look of wood.

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