Canada Wood Today | The Canada Wood Group

Director’s Message

Paul Newman

By Paul Newman

Executive Director - Market Access and Trade, COFI Vancouver

July 2, 2013

China’s Fire Code

The 2010 Shanghai fire was a fire on 15 November 2010 that destroyed a 28-story high-rise apartment building in the city of Shanghai, China, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 70 others with at least one source reporting more than 120 others injured). The fire may have been caused by the accidental ignition of polyurethane foam insulation used on the building's outer walls. In China, the foam is commonly used as insulation material without the addition of flame retardants, and the foam produces toxic gases and carbon monoxide when burned.

The 2010 Shanghai fire was a fire on 15 November 2010 that destroyed a 28-story high-rise apartment building in the city of Shanghai, China, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 70 others with at least one source reporting more than 120 others injured). The fire may have been caused by the accidental ignition of polyurethane foam insulation used on the building’s outer walls.

An important and significant initiative for Canada Wood over the last 8 years has been collaboration on the national fire code with relevant Chinese authorities.   China’s fire code GB50016 sets out the requirements, usage and limits for building systems and construction materials in China’s huge building sector.   The responsible regulators are the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) Fire Bureau for technical content and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development (MOHURD) for administration.   Up to now two separate fire codes have dealt with low-rise construction (nine & fewer stories) versus high-rise above nine stories.   Presently wood frame construction (WFC) is limited to 3 stories in China.

Wood construction is but a small element of GB50016 (low-rise code).  But through intensive multi-year collaboration including fire research and expert exchange with MPS code editors, Canada and its partners in Europe and the USA have been able to convince MPS of wood’s fire safety credentials and performance.  This has enabled relaxations to be written into the draft revision which will allow WFC up to five stories (3 on 2 of concrete) and infill hybrids up to seven stories.   Other important provisions have been added.  These changes should open up considerably wider opportunities for WFC.    This revision drafting was completed almost three years ago.

The Beijing Television Cultural Center fire was a massive blaze on 9 February 2009, in the centre of Beijing, involving the uncompleted Television Cultural Center (TVCC) building. Polyurethane insulation is blamed as the main cause for the rapid spread of the fire:

The Beijing Television Cultural Center fire was a massive blaze on 9 February 2009, in the centre of Beijing, involving the uncompleted Television Cultural Center (TVCC) building. Polyurethane insulation is blamed as the main cause for the rapid spread of the fire.

But why has promulgation of the revised code been so slow?   Recent meetings in Beijing with both MOHURD and the MPS Fire Bureau shed light on this delay.   Despite our strong desire and interest to see the revised code pushed through ASAP it has been hung up on issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the wood angle.   Firstly a decision was taken to merge and harmonize the two codes: high-rise and low-rise.   Bringing high-rise code requirements into line with low-rise took code writers about two years of effort.   Then over the last couple of years there have been some disastrous apartment fires in China

In Beijing, authorities halted renovation projects similar to the one being done on the apartment in Shanghai shortly after the blaze. The projects, intended to save energy by installing insulation, were stopped on 19 November, pending safety evaluations of the work. The insulation is still flammable, despite the use of fire retardants. Shanghai officials temporarily stopped such renovations after the fire, but later allowed them to resume.

In Beijing, authorities halted renovation projects similar to the one being done on the apartment in Shanghai shortly after the blaze. The projects, intended to save energy by installing insulation, were stopped on 19 November, pending safety evaluations of the work. The insulation is still flammable, despite the use of fire retardants. Shanghai officials temporarily stopped such renovations after the fire, but later allowed them to resume.

claiming large numbers of lives.  These fires were abetted by combustible insulation materials added to building exteriors to improve energy efficiency.   An instance of green objectives conflicting with public safety imperatives.   According to discussions last week an impasse exists between the two Ministries on how to ensure public safety and minimize building cost re – exterior insulation strategies.  Until this issue is resolved, the new revised version of the fire code will remain a draft only.