Navigating Fire Risks in Modular Construction

24 October 2023

Modular construction has gained significant popularity in recent years. As the name suggests, it involves modular components of the structure being shipped to the site to be assembled – much like a piece of flat pack furniture. Due to its efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness it has become much more common in the construction industry. 

However, like any building method, it comes with its own set of challenges. One critical concern is fire safety. In this blog post, we will explore the unique fire risks associated with modular construction and discuss strategies to mitigate them.

Understanding Modular Construction

The components of a building that are produced in an off-site factory, known as modules, are often made of sustainable materials like wood, steel, or concrete and are designed to fit together seamlessly to create a fully functional building.

This process makes the construction process 30-50% quicker and therefore cuts down on labour costs. In remote parts of the country, it also means contractors have to travel for less time for a project. This lower cost means companies can achieve the bespoke finish without the timeline and financial implications of bringing in architects to design from scratch.

Fire Safety Issues in Modular Construction

Although modular construction has many benefits – both financially and environmentally – issues do arise when it comes to fire safety. 

Materials

Timber is a common material used in constructing the modules used in these buildings. Although it is a sustainable and affordable way to frame a building, it is also much more susceptible to damage caused by the spread of fire. 

Modular construction also often relies on adhesives and sealants for joining parts. Some of these materials can be flammable if not properly chosen or installed.

Cavities

Part of the appeal of modular construction is that the parts fit together seamlessly to form a bespoke structure. However, there usually ends up being gaps between the modules that can be left unfilled. In traditional construction, the amount of cavities between rooms are minimised and when they must exist, they are commonly filled with fire-resistant materials. 

These gaps can become ‘pathways’ for fire to spread, compromising the effectiveness of physical barriers like compartmentation and fire doors.

How to Mitigate These Risks

Although there are risks associated with modular construction, it is also popular for very good reason. With the right safety measures in place, from construction to maintenance, modular buildings can be as safe as traditionally built ones.

Fire-Resistant Materials

There are a variety of fire resistant and sustainable materials that can be used in modular construction – allowing for more of the structure to hold up in the case of a fire. This structural integrity not only mitigates fire spreading but provides safety for first responders and building users during evacuation.

Barriers & Protection

Installing physical barriers – such as special sealants and coatings – can slow the spread of fire giving more precious time to evacuate. 

More active methods of fire protection like sprinklers are also an important part of gearing up your building to withstand whatever comes its way and protecting building users.

Planning & Regular Checks

Throughout the construction process and beyond, regularly checking that contractors and your team are prioritising fire safety is important. This also includes thorough Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs). For more information on how Total Fire Group can help with the FRA process, see our website

Modular construction offers numerous advantages, but it’s essential to address fire risks effectively to ensure the safety of occupants and the longevity of the building. By selecting fire-resistant materials, implementing proper fire barriers, and integrating active fire protection systems, modular construction can be made safer and more resilient in the face of potential fire hazards. Additionally, fostering a culture of fire safety awareness among all stakeholders is critical to navigating fire risks successfully in modular construction projects.

To find out more about Total Fire Group’s range of services, from consultancy to fire safety training, visit our website or contact us today to get started.

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