Wednesday, November 11, 1998 11:31:10 PM
GSBN Item
From: GSBN@...,Txinfinet Incoming
Subject: Digest for 11/11/98
To: GSBN
-> Burning SB building in Mongolia
by "Lerner, Helmuth, McCandless" <options@...>
-> Re: Burning SB building in Mongolia
by habibg@...

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 11 Nov 1998 00:34:11 -0600
From: "Lerner, Helmuth, McCandless" <options@...>
Subject: Burning SB building in Mongolia

Greetings All,

Below is a report by Scott Christiansen on a fire that destroyed a brand new
SB clinic in Mongolia. Faulty wiring and straw in the ceiling seem to be the
main issues. Low quality workmanship and low quality materials are a fact of
life in Mongolia that we acknowledge while we train workers to higher
standards. It's painful to bring our hard knocks to the table, but I hope we
can generate some good solutions that will allow the UNDP straw-building
project to go forward.

This is a VERY serious issue, with UNDP considering dropping all straw-bale
projects and possible criminal charges, fines for ADRA, or jail for ADRA
personnel (as those responsible for inspecting the buildings...) Scott
needs all the support and input he can get both personally and
professionally. I will forward all technical input to UNDP via Scott.
Thanks in advance. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

In addition to ADRA's fire proofing options (see Scott's report below), my
other alternatives are:
1. spraying the bales down with a borax solution before they are installed (is
this really enough fire proofing??),
2. plastering both sides of the ceiling insulation bales (a bit heavy) or
3. installing all the electrical in conduit (I'm waiting to hear from Scott if
conduit is available in Mongolia - it wasn't available last year when I was
there).
4. insulation of light straw clay is also an option, though it doesn't have as
much insulation value. Has anyone used light straw-clay as ceiling
insulation??

OK, folks wow me with your low-tech, inexpensive, fool-proof solutions to
non-flammable ceiling insulation.

Kelly Lerner

Report on the Fire in Bagkhangai
By Scott Christiansen, Director, ADRA/Mongolia
10 November 1998


On November 4 1998, at sometime preceding eight oiclock in the evening, a fire
was started in the attic of new clinic building in the Bagkhangai District of
Ulaan Baatar. The clinic building had been built using the straw-bale
super-insulating technique. The building had been built over the summer and
dedicated for use only about two months previously. On the morning of 6
November, a survey team arrived in Bagkhangai to assess the damage. Three
ADRA
staff were part of this survey team, including Scott Christiansen, Country
Director, Adam Obradovic, Straw-bale projects Coordinator, and Altantsestseg,
straw-bale construction expert. When the team arrived at the site, all fire
had been out for about 18 hours. In the time between the extinguishment of
the
fire and the arrival of the team, considerable scavenging had taken place and
along with it considerable traffic had been through the building, complicating
the effort of determining the cause of damage.

The cause of the fire is not known as of the writing of this report. The fire
is, of course, a tragic loss. But it is also a learning opportunity and,
coming as it does rather early in the number of buildings expected to be
built,
full advantage should be taken of this learning opportunity. Here is what we
know so far:

1) The building burned as it was expected to. That may seem like a strange
statement, but from the start it was expected that if a building should ever
somehow burn, it would be a very slow, smouldering fire that would not be a
threat to the people in the building. This proved to be the case in
Bagkhangai. According to the (somewhat contradictory) eyewitness accounts,
the
fire was first noticed at about 7 pm on the fourth of November. The first
evidence was smoke inside the building. Alarmed, the staff removed all the
people in the building. As there was still only smoke evident, they went back
in and proceeded to remove all the equipment and furniture. They even removed
the photo-voltaic panel from the building. The fire proceeded to break out
then slowly smoulder for 18 hours until it was extinguished.

2) Only the unsheathed straw burned. The internal and external walls of the
building were virtually untouched by the fire. Though they were in some
places
totally destroyed, it was not from fire but from firemen who were
confounded by
the challenge of fighting a smouldering fire. Inside the clinic, the paint on
the walls is not peeling from heat exposure, nor is it even blackened. Even
plastic iCanadai stickers on the doors are still intact and unmelted. The
straw that burned was the straw-bales in the ceiling insulation. Except for
the straw in the ceiling, the building performed exactly as expected in terms
of fire resistance and safety. The plaster coating of straw for fire
resistance and fire-proofing was totally vindicated. Because the straw in the
ceiling was the only weak link in an otherwise sound building, this weak-link
will be the focus of design change discussions later in this report. It is
perhaps germane to comment here that the nursing staff of the clinic was
particularly grieved by the fire because the building was ibeautiful, useful
and so warm!i
3) The buildings need to be fool-proof. The first reports of the fire were
totally inaccurate and only a first-hand inspection of the site proved
useful.
Still, the misinformation may ultimately prove helpful; it was early reported
that the person in charge of the stove had altered the chimney of the
building. Had he done so, it may have displaced or removed the some of the
fire-proofing measures that were in place at the time of construction.
Ultimately, ADRA was not able to confirm or dispel the notion that the chimney
had been tampered with, though it seemed that the chimney and all itis safety
mechanisms were in place. But the question was still raised: What will happen
when future users make modifications to these buildings, such as heating and
electrical modifications? Electrical work, notorious even in the best
buildings in Mongolia, will definitely be a hazard if future users decide to
make their own unskilled changes to the electrical systems. Thus, design
changes should be made now with the assumption that the normal unsafe,
hazardous electrical and heating systems usually found in Mongolia may very
well be employed in the future.

4) The worst should be expected. As a corollary to the above, it should be
expected that, with the combination of unsafe materials and low construction
skill, the worst possible event will always take place in Mongolia. It should
be noted here that the building in question was built by an apparently skilled
and professional construction company, that the building was inspected either
11 or 12 times by ADRA (we lost count), and that the building was presumably
inspected by City Fire and Building Department officials as part of the
construction process that the construction contractor was responsible for.
The
building was a fourth-generation design that had a great deal of careful
thinking behind it. The design came from a straw-bale architect with an
international reputation. And yet the building failed. Therefore, the
buildings must be re-designed not merely for maximum cost/safety efficiency,
but with the expectation in mind that the construction environment makes
accidents extremely likely. To do so will minimize any chance of repetition in
the future.

Design Changes:

While a fire of some origin destroyed the building, it may be safe to assume
that if there had been no straw in the ceiling, there would have been no
significant fire event. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is to remove
the straw from the ceiling. Were this to be done, the best, if not only,
thing
to replace it with would be fiberglass. At this time the ADRA straw-bale
experts are conducting a cost-analysis on this option. Fiberglass has the
benefit of not only being an inflammable material, but it can also retard or
prevent fires where it coats flammable (such as wood) surfaces. When ADRA
started designing straw-bale buildings in Mongolia, fiberglass was not
available. There was also a philosophical bias toward using straw where
possible because of the positive environmental impacts. Taking a pragmatic
view, fiberglass in the ceiling instead of straw now makes sense. At this
time, ADRA is reviewing the following design change options:

1) Replace the straw in the ceiling with fiberglass.
2) Reduce the size of the truss system and place trusses slightly closer
together so the span will allow gypsum board to be screwed directly to trusses
without sagging.
3) Place fiberglass directly on gypsum board to a depth of 15 cm (R-20 value)
4) Coat exposed bale-tops in walls with a mud slip before finishing (as a
fire-retardant).
5) Make stove exhaust exit the building through a brick chimney.
6) Provide further insulation to wiring where it comes in contact with truss
work.


Other design changes may be advanced following discussions with straw-bale
experts around the world. ADRA suggests that any design changes incorporated
into future buildings also be retrofitted onto existing buildings if possible.

Arson:

The man who is in charge of keeping the stove lit and various other duties at
the clinic has been arrested and is in jail at this writing. The reason for
arrest was not given but it was presumed to be either for suspicion of
negligence or suspicion of arson. The remote possibility of arson does not
negate most of the conclusions and design changes suggested in this document
but only serves to confirm that buildings in Mongolia are under a variety of
threats and should be constructed in a very conservative way with maximum
preventive measures applied.
One World Design, International Design and Consulting
925 Avis Drive
El Cerrito, CA 94530
510.528.3765 Fax 510.528.8763

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 11 Nov 1998 11:55:55 -0600
From: habibg@...
Subject: Re: Burning SB building in Mongolia

Hello Tosh:

Again, this past weekend at a bale house wall raising, a young designer
asked me about using unplastered bales for ceiling insulation. I shared
my reservations about their potential dangers when surrounded with the
typically high fuel load materials in standard roof construction.

An example of this danger unfortunately has happened in the Mongolian
straw bale projects. The details are enclosed below.


all the best,

Habib


Lerner, Helmuth, McCandless wrote:
>
> Greetings All,
>
> Below is a report by Scott Christiansen on a fire that destroyed a brand new
> SB clinic in Mongolia. Faulty wiring and straw in the ceiling seem to be
the
> main issues. Low quality workmanship and low quality materials are a fact
of
> life in Mongolia that we acknowledge while we train workers to higher
> standards. It's painful to bring our hard knocks to the table, but I hope
we
> can generate some good solutions that will allow the UNDP straw-building
> project to go forward.
>
> This is a VERY serious issue, with UNDP considering dropping all straw-bale
> projects and possible criminal charges, fines for ADRA, or jail for ADRA
> personnel (as those responsible for inspecting the buildings...) Scott
> needs all the support and input he can get both personally and
> professionally. I will forward all technical input to UNDP via Scott.
> Thanks in advance. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
>
> In addition to ADRA's fire proofing options (see Scott's report below), my
> other alternatives are:
> 1. spraying the bales down with a borax solution before they are installed
(is
> this really enough fire proofing??),
> 2. plastering both sides of the ceiling insulation bales (a bit heavy) or
> 3. installing all the electrical in conduit (I'm waiting to hear from Scott
if
> conduit is available in Mongolia - it wasn't available last year when I was
> there).
> 4. insulation of light straw clay is also an option, though it doesn't have
as
> much insulation value. Has anyone used light straw-clay as ceiling
> insulation??
>
> OK, folks wow me with your low-tech, inexpensive, fool-proof solutions to
> non-flammable ceiling insulation.
>
> Kelly Lerner
>
> Report on the Fire in Bagkhangai
> By Scott Christiansen, Director, ADRA/Mongolia
> 10 November 1998
>
> On November 4 1998, at sometime preceding eight oiclock in the evening, a
fire
> was started in the attic of new clinic building in the Bagkhangai District
of
> Ulaan Baatar. The clinic building had been built using the straw-bale
> super-insulating technique. The building had been built over the summer and
> dedicated for use only about two months previously. On the morning of 6
> November, a survey team arrived in Bagkhangai to assess the damage. Three
> ADRA
> staff were part of this survey team, including Scott Christiansen, Country
> Director, Adam Obradovic, Straw-bale projects Coordinator, and
Altantsestseg,
> straw-bale construction expert. When the team arrived at the site, all fire
> had been out for about 18 hours. In the time between the extinguishment of
> the
> fire and the arrival of the team, considerable scavenging had taken place
and
> along with it considerable traffic had been through the building,
complicating
> the effort of determining the cause of damage.
>
> The cause of the fire is not known as of the writing of this report. The
fire
> is, of course, a tragic loss. But it is also a learning opportunity and,
> coming as it does rather early in the number of buildings expected to be
> built,
> full advantage should be taken of this learning opportunity. Here is what
we
> know so far:
>
> 1) The building burned as it was expected to. That may seem like a strange
> statement, but from the start it was expected that if a building should ever
> somehow burn, it would be a very slow, smouldering fire that would not be a
> threat to the people in the building. This proved to be the case in
> Bagkhangai. According to the (somewhat contradictory) eyewitness accounts,
> the
> fire was first noticed at about 7 pm on the fourth of November. The first
> evidence was smoke inside the building. Alarmed, the staff removed all the
> people in the building. As there was still only smoke evident, they went
back
> in and proceeded to remove all the equipment and furniture. They even
removed
> the photo-voltaic panel from the building. The fire proceeded to break out
> then slowly smoulder for 18 hours until it was extinguished.
>
> 2) Only the unsheathed straw burned. The internal and external walls of the
> building were virtually untouched by the fire. Though they were in some
> places
> totally destroyed, it was not from fire but from firemen who were
> confounded by
> the challenge of fighting a smouldering fire. Inside the clinic, the paint
on
> the walls is not peeling from heat exposure, nor is it even blackened. Even
> plastic iCanadai stickers on the doors are still intact and unmelted. The
> straw that burned was the straw-bales in the ceiling insulation. Except for
> the straw in the ceiling, the building performed exactly as expected in
terms
> of fire resistance and safety. The plaster coating of straw for fire
> resistance and fire-proofing was totally vindicated. Because the straw in
the
> ceiling was the only weak link in an otherwise sound building, this
weak-link
> will be the focus of design change discussions later in this report. It is
> perhaps germane to comment here that the nursing staff of the clinic was
> particularly grieved by the fire because the building was ibeautiful, useful
> and so warm!i
> 3) The buildings need to be fool-proof. The first reports of the fire were
> totally inaccurate and only a first-hand inspection of the site proved
> useful.
> Still, the misinformation may ultimately prove helpful; it was early
reported
> that the person in charge of the stove had altered the chimney of the
> building. Had he done so, it may have displaced or removed the some of the
> fire-proofing measures that were in place at the time of construction.
> Ultimately, ADRA was not able to confirm or dispel the notion that the
chimney
> had been tampered with, though it seemed that the chimney and all itis
safety
> mechanisms were in place. But the question was still raised: What will
happen
> when future users make modifications to these buildings, such as heating and
> electrical modifications? Electrical work, notorious even in the best
> buildings in Mongolia, will definitely be a hazard if future users decide to
> make their own unskilled changes to the electrical systems. Thus, design
> changes should be made now with the assumption that the normal unsafe,
> hazardous electrical and heating systems usually found in Mongolia may very
> well be employed in the future.
>
> 4) The worst should be expected. As a corollary to the above, it should be
> expected that, with the combination of unsafe materials and low construction
> skill, the worst possible event will always take place in Mongolia. It
should
> be noted here that the building in question was built by an apparently
skilled
> and professional construction company, that the building was inspected
either
> 11 or 12 times by ADRA (we lost count), and that the building was presumably
> inspected by City Fire and Building Department officials as part of the
> construction process that the construction contractor was responsible for.
> The
> building was a fourth-generation design that had a great deal of careful
> thinking behind it. The design came from a straw-bale architect with an
> international reputation. And yet the building failed. Therefore, the
> buildings must be re-designed not merely for maximum cost/safety efficiency,
> but with the expectation in mind that the construction environment makes
> accidents extremely likely. To do so will minimize any chance of repetition
in
> the future.
>
> Design Changes:
>
> While a fire of some origin destroyed the building, it may be safe to assume
> that if there had been no straw in the ceiling, there would have been no
> significant fire event. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is to remove
> the straw from the ceiling. Were this to be done, the best, if not only,
> thing
> to replace it with would be fiberglass. At this time the ADRA straw-bale
> experts are conducting a cost-analysis on this option. Fiberglass has the
> benefit of not only being an inflammable material, but it can also retard or
> prevent fires where it coats flammable (such as wood) surfaces. When ADRA
> started designing straw-bale buildings in Mongolia, fiberglass was not
> available. There was also a philosophical bias toward using straw where
> possible because of the positive environmental impacts. Taking a pragmatic
> view, fiberglass in the ceiling instead of straw now makes sense. At this
> time, ADRA is reviewing the following design change options:
>
> 1) Replace the straw in the ceiling with fiberglass.
> 2) Reduce the size of the truss system and place trusses slightly closer
> together so the span will allow gypsum board to be screwed directly to
trusses
> without sagging.
> 3) Place fiberglass directly on gypsum board to a depth of 15 cm (R-20
value)
> 4) Coat exposed bale-tops in walls with a mud slip before finishing (as a
> fire-retardant).
> 5) Make stove exhaust exit the building through a brick chimney.
> 6) Provide further insulation to wiring where it comes in contact with truss
> work.
>
> Other design changes may be advanced following discussions with straw-bale
> experts around the world. ADRA suggests that any design changes incorporated
> into future buildings also be retrofitted onto existing buildings if
possible.
>
> Arson:
>
> The man who is in charge of keeping the stove lit and various other duties
at
> the clinic has been arrested and is in jail at this writing. The reason for
> arrest was not given but it was presumed to be either for suspicion of
> negligence or suspicion of arson. The remote possibility of arson does not
> negate most of the conclusions and design changes suggested in this document
> but only serves to confirm that buildings in Mongolia are under a variety of
> threats and should be constructed in a very conservative way with maximum
> preventive measures applied.
> One World Design, International Design and Consulting
> 925 Avis Drive
> El Cerrito, CA 94530
> 510.528.3765 Fax 510.528.8763



- --
==Please note new address==
Sustainable Works
C-2, Gordon Road
Nelson, British Columbia, Canada V1L 3E3
ph/fax: 250/352-3731
***********************************************************************
"Better the kindness of imperfection, than perfection without kindness"



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