Fire Protection Considerations with Five-Story Wood-Frame Buildings: Part 2

Bruce Lindsey is the South Atlantic Regional Director for WoodWorks The Wood Products Council, which provides free project assistance as well as education and resources related to the design of nonresidential and multi-family wood buildings. Based in Charlotte, NC, Bruce’s multi-faceted career with the industry spans 20 years and includes architectural design, structural design and roles within the engineered wood products industry related to marketing, product management, distribution, consulting and sales.

Last week’s post reviewed some of the common questions WoodWorks receives from engineers designing five-story, Type III wood-frame buildings—including those related to fire retardant-treated building elements, and fire-rated floor and wall assemblies. This week, we extend that conversation to another common issue—details and fire rating of floor-to-wall intersections.

The fire rating of an exterior wall assembly in Type III construction causes a detailing issue where the floor intersects the exterior wall assembly. There are no testing criteria established by the code for system intersections of any material, so detailing must rely on code interpretation. The two points of interpretation focus on continuity of the two-hour wall fire rating and the FRT requirement.

Section 705.6 of the 2012 IBC 1 requires that an exterior wall have “sufficient structural stability such that it will remain in place for the duration of time indicated by the required fire resistance rating.” The ‘interruption’ of the floor in the plane of the exterior wall may be seen by authorities as affecting the structural stability. It is not clear how designers are to comply with this language; for that reason, the language has been removed in the 2015 IBC.

The implication of FRT continuity is derived from the primary requirement that Type III buildings have noncombustible exterior walls. FRT wood is permitted in these walls per IBC Sections 602.3 and 602.4. Since the noncombustibility or acceptable FRT alternative is intended to reduce fire exposure to other buildings, some code officials require FRT material in the plane of exterior walls through the floor intersection. The degree to which a building official believes that the rim joist, floor joist and/or sheathing present a risk of fire spread will determine the degree of FRT material required through the floor-wall intersection.

The manner in which this floor-to-wall connection can be detailed first depends on the type of framing being used—traditional platform framing or semi/modified balloon framing. Platform framing relies on the fact that the floor system bears directly onto the wall below. Semi-balloon framing relies on hangers to support the floor framing.

Typical platform-framed floor-to-wall intersections have been accepted by many jurisdictions without any special detailing according to the rationale that the area of intersection represents “floor framing” and not “wall framing.” In these intersections, the “floor” is not required to be FRT and its fire resistance is limited to one hour. This is similar to the floor conditions found in Type V construction; where such conditions obtain, it’s also logical to extend the same detailing allowances at this intersection to Type III buildings.

While local code interpretation varies widely, a variety of detailing concepts have arisen across the country as possible solutions to this issue.

In one solution, a solid sawn, glulam or engineered rim board is used to create continuity of the two-hour rating through the plane of the wall by using the charring capability of the rim board calculated using Chapter 16 of the NDS. Variations of this detail include a built-up rim board. In some solutions, the member closest on the outside of the wall may also be FRT to provide some degree of FRT continuity. If continuity of FRT through the floor for the entire width of the wall is also required, the entire thickened rim board and possibly the first sheet of floor sheathing may need to be FRT. In some scenarios without heavy FRT requirements, a hanger is not needed if the rim board width that can accommodate the charring is narrower than the width of the wall and the joist can bear on the top plate itself.

Another option is to use a continuous 2x block to achieve one hour of fire resistance, again calculated using Chapter 16 of the NDS. The second hour of resistance is provided by the horizontally applied drywall on the underside of the floor. While the two layers of drywall may not be in the plane of the wall, they still provide two hours of fire endurance. This detail may or may not require that the block and the floor sheathing be FRT, depending on the FRT continuity interpretation. Variations of this detail include an option where the blocking is moved inside the plane of the wall between the joists. Some jurisdictions object, citing concerns about fires starting in the floor cavity. There are other measures, such as fire blocking or cavity sprinklers, provided to minimize spread of fire in these situations. The same question could be asked about fires starting within a wall cavity.

A third option is a slight variation of the second. Instead of using blocking to achieve the one hour of fire resistance, one layer of drywall can extend up behind certain proprietary top flange joist hangers (for SST example, click here). This provides one hour of fire resistance in the plane of the wall, and the second hour is provided by the drywall on the underside of the floor. Some contractors find this detail difficult to accommodate because of construction sequencing — the drywall crew typically does not arrive on site until after rough framing is complete. A variation seen in some areas is using a top-chord-bearing truss, which eliminates the hanger hardware and minimizes the non-treated penetration in the plane of the exterior wall. Addressing full FRT continuity may be more difficult with this variation depending on the truss manufacturer.

A fourth option requires relatively new concepts using connector solutions that allow two layers of gypsum to be applied behind the floor joist connection to the wall (for SST example, click here). Hardware solutions can be a useful option to have available when an Authority Having Jurisdiction is particularly wary of maintaining the integrity of a rated wall assembly, but Designers should consider both the labor and the cost of these details to determine the best fit for the project.

In addition to regional nuances and differing (and evolving) code interpretations, there isn’t one solution that fits all applications. Designers should determine the local availability of FRT products, review manufacturer product specifications and discuss the proposed solution with their jurisdiction.

Available Support

If you’re designing a mid-rise wood building and have questions—e.g., about fire and life safety, lateral and vertical loads, how to address shrinkage, etc.—I encourage you to contact your local WoodWorks regional director. The WoodWorks website (woodworks.org) also offers a wide range of technical information on mid-rise structures and we welcome inquiries to the project assistance help desk (help@woodworks.org).

1Information is based on the 2012 International Building Code unless otherwise indicated.

Connectors and Fasteners in Fire-Retardant-Treated Wood

In any given year, Simpson Strong-Tie fields several questions about the use of our connectors and fasteners with pressure-treated fire-retardant wood products. Most often asked is whether this application meets the building code requirements for Type III construction, and whether there is a legitimate concern about corrosion. While there haven’t been any specific discussions on this topic in the SE Blog, there have been related discussions surrounding sources of corrosion, such as: Corrosion: The Issues, Code Requirements, Research and Solutions, Corrosion in Coastal Environments, Deck Fasteners – Deck Board to Framing Attachments. This post will explore several resources that we hope will enable you to make an informed decision about which type of pressure-treated Fire-Retardant-Treated Wood (FRTW) to choose for use with steel fasteners and connectors.

One factor contributing to the frequency of these questions is the increased height of buildings now being constructed. With increased height, there is a requirement for increased fire rating. To meet the minimum fire rating for taller buildings, the building code requires noncombustible construction for the exterior walls. As an exception to using noncombustible construction, the 2015 International Building Code (IBC®) section 602.3 allows the use of fire-retardant wood framing complying with IBC section 2303.2. This allows the use of wood-framed construction where noncombustible materials would otherwise be required.

In the 2009 IBC, Section 2304.9.5, “Fasteners in preservative-treated and fire-retardant-treated wood,” was revised to include many subsections (2304.9.5.1 through 2304.9.5.4) dealing with these wood treatments in various types of environmental applications. Section 2304.9.5.3 addressed the use of FRTW in exterior applications or wet or damp locations, and 2304.9.5.4 addressed FRTW in interior applications. These sections carried over to the 2012 IBC, and were moved to Section 2304.10.5 in the 2015 IBC. FRTW is listed in various other sections within the code. For more information about FRTW within the code (e.g., strength adjustments, testing, wood structural panels, moisture content), the Western Wood Preservers Institute has a couple of documents to consult: 2009 IBC Document and 2013 CBC Document. They also have a number of different links to various wood associations.

As shown in Figure 1 below, fasteners (including nuts and washers) used with FRTW in exterior conditions or where the wood’s service condition may include wet or damp locations need to be hot-dipped zinc-coated galvanized steel, stainless steel, silicon bronze or copper. This section does permit other fasteners (excluding nails, wood screws, timber rivets and lag screws) to be mechanically galvanized in accordance with ASTM B 695, Class 55 at a minimum. As shown in Figure 2, fasteners (including nuts and washers) used with FRTW in interior conditions need to be in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, or, if no recommendations are present, to comply with 2304.9.5.3.

Figure 1:  Section 2304.9.5.3 of the 2012 IBC (Source ICC)

Figure 1: Section 2304.9.5.3 of the 2012 IBC (Source ICC)

Figure 2:  Section 2304.9.5.4 of the 2012 IBC (Source ICC)

Figure 2: Section 2304.9.5.4 of the 2012 IBC (Source ICC)

In Type III construction where the exterior walls may be FRTW in accordance with 2012 IBC Section 602.3, one question that often comes up is whether the defined “exterior wall” should comply with Section 2304.9.5.3 or 2304.9.5.4. While there are many different views on this point, it is our opinion at Simpson Strong-Tie that Section 2304.9.5.4 would apply to the exterior walls. Since the exterior finishes of the building envelope are intended to protect the wood and components within its cavity from exterior elements such as rain or moisture, the inside of the wall would be dry.

There are many FRTW product choices on the market; take a look at the American Wood Council’s list of treaters. Unlike the preservative-treated wood industry, however, the FRTW industry involves proprietary formulations and retentions. As a result, Simpson Strong-Tie has not evaluated the FRTW products. In our current connector and fastener catalogs, C-C-2015 Wood Connector Construction and C-F-14 Fastening Systems, you will find a newly revised Corrosion Resistance Classifications chart, shown in Figure 3 below, which can be found on page 15 in each catalog. The FRTW classification has been added to the chart in the last column. The corrosion protection recommendations for FRTW in various environmental applications is set to medium or high, corresponding to a number of options for connectors and fasteners as shown in the Corrosion Resistance Recommendations chart, shown in Figure 4. These general guideline recommendations are set to these levels for two reasons: (1) there are unknown variations of chemicals commercially available on the market, and (2) Simpson Strong-Tie has not conducted testing of these treated wood components.

Figure 3: Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Classifications Chart

Figure 3: Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Classifications Chart

Figure 4: Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Recommendations Chart

Figure 4: Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Recommendations Chart

The information above is not the only information readily available. There are many different tests that can be done on FRTW, as noted in the Western Wood Preservers Institute’s document. One such test for corrosion is Military Specification MIL-1914E, which deals with lumber and plywood. Another is AWPA E12-08, Standard Method of Determining Corrosion of Metals in Contact with Treated Wood. Manufacturers of FRTW products who applied for and received an ICC-ES Evaluation Report must submit the results of testing for their specific chemicals in contact with various types of steel. ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria 66 (AC66), the Acceptance Criteria for Fire-Retardant-Treated Wood, requires applicants to submit information regarding the FRTW product in contact with metal. The result is a section published in each manufacturer’s evaluation report (typically Section 3.4) addressing the product use in contact with metal. Many published reports contain similar language, such as “The corrosion rate of aluminum, carbon steel, galvanized steel, copper or red brass in contact with wood is not increased by (name of manufacturer) fire-retardant treatment when the product is used as recommended by the manufacturer.” Structural engineers should check the architect’s specification on this type of material. Product evaluation reports should also be checked to ensure proper specification of hardware and fastener coatings to protect against corrosion. Each evaluation report also contains the applicable strength adjustment factors, which vary from one product to another.

Selecting the proper FRTW product for use in your building is crucial. There are many different options available. Be sure to select a product based on the published information and to communicate that information to the entire design team. Evaluation reports are a great source of information because the independently witnessed testing of manufacturers has been reviewed by the agency reviewing the report. Finally, understanding FRTW chemicals and their behavior when in contact with other building products will ensure expected performance of your structures.

What has been your experience with FRTW? What minimum recommendations do you provide in your construction documents?