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RE: GSBN: re Ecohouse / Fire issues

<x-charset windows-1250>On this subject of "good practice" vs. "code requirement" we've had many
discussions.  This fire issue is a good example of a good practice that
wouldn't be appropriately regulated by building code.  

[In this case, there is a jurisdictional hole--buildings under construction
aren't regulated by fire codes the way a completed and occupied building
would be. There are some areas here in California where a supply of water
must be on hand before a building permit will be allowed, and I presume this
is so that a fire could be extinguished before it consumes the rest of the

It's important for us to promulgate "good practice", just as most industry
associations issue guidelines and models of good practice independent of
regulatory bodies.  This promotes successful building practices, while
providing legal cover for members.  It also can stifle innovation and drive
up the cost of building. Each "practice" must be considered in balancing the
need to encourage practices that we know are reliable, with the important
role of experimentation and innovation in natural building.

Strawbale and other associations can play an important role in furthering
good practice and innovation, if they're willing to take a high-profile
position in the building community--if nobody hears about good practice,
then how can they "follow"?

John "Practically Perfect" Swearingen 

John Swearingen
design and construction

-----Original Message-----
"<a  target="_blank" href="mailto:GSBN@..."mailto:GSBN@...";>mailto:GSBN@..."mailto:GSBN@...] On
Behalf Of Martin Hammer
Sent: Saturday, January 20, 2007 3:54 AM
Subject: Re: GSBN: re Ecohouse / Fire issues

Hello Bill C.,

Generally I agree, as Nehemiah said, the building codes in California do not
address fire or safety during the construction process.  The only places I
can find where the Uniform Building Code (which has been the basis for most
building codes in the western US states for decades) ventures into the realm
of safety are:

a) Section 904.6  Fire Extinguishing Systems - Buildings Under Construction,
there are requirements for providing a standpipe for buildings greater than
three stories.
b) Section 3303 - Protection of Pedestrians During Construction or

However, almost all of the US (and California beginning 2008) now uses the
relatively new International Building Code (IBC) as the basis for State and
local building codes.  AND, there is a chapter in the IBC entitled "Chapter
33 - Safeguards During Construction".  It deals with protection of
pedestrians and adjacent property as the UBC did, but it goes at least two
places the UBC didn't as follows:

A) Section 3309 - Fire Extinguishers,  which requires temporary fire
extinguishers during demolition or construction in locations/situations it
B) 3309.2 - Fire Hazards,  which stipulates that the International Fire Code
be followed "to safeguard against all fire hazards attendant upon
construction operations."

I haven't seen the IFC, so I don't know what it contains.  But there may be
something there that is useful and enforceable relative to straw bale

(Note:  Although the above is in the model IBC, some jurisdictions might
exclude that section (or any other section) from their Code)

Until last Spring I DID have a section of the proposed California SB Code
that addressed the issue of fire safety during construction.  It identified
all of the points that you made and more.  At the CASBA 2006 Spring
conference I asked for comments about that section from the attending CASBA
members.  They jumped all over it (like they were trying to extinguish a
fire on a straw bale)  and more or less insisted I not include such language
in the SB code because:

1. It is not the place of the building code to regulate process. 2. It calls
too much attention to SB as a fire hazard, especially relative to building
officials who approve permits, insurance companies, and lenders. 3. There
are no such requirements for the commonly used and quite flammable method of
wood frame construction.

So, even though on the surface it seems like a very good and sensible idea,
and although it might even save a few buildings (and lives?) I removed it
from the proposed SB code I submitted.

I'm not entirely convinced that it shouldn't be in a straw bale code, but I
know it is much easier to add it than subtract it, and decided that even in
the approval process of the proposed code in California, proposing such
language might unnecessarily scare people who are the gatekeepers of
approval.  All that said however, maybe there should at least be a code
requirement that a sign (with specific language re: fire safety during
construction) be posted on each straw bale construction site.

Martin Hammer
California, USA

PS - One other minor note.  I have been told that somewhere in the Plumbing
Code there is mention of shielding flammable construction from an open
torch, but have never actually seen such language, and I found none just now
with a quick search in an out dated edition of the Uniform Plumbing Code.

> At 5:52 PM -0800 1/17/07, Martin Hammer wrote:
>> In my most recent straw bale code draft I have addressed two of the
>> above issues and am considering addressing the third.  I'm very
>> interested in the opinions of GSBNers.  My current and imminent
>> positions are as follows,  but feel free to comment or to flat out
>> disagree.  In reverse order of the
>> above:
> Do the codes typically address the construction process as well?
> If so, I'd suggest language prohibiting use of grinders, welders,
> propane torches, smoking, and other sources of ignition within X
> distance of any exposed straw including loose straw on the ground
> unless certain safety conditions were met.  (for instance, some
> plumbing joints may need to be soldered but there are insulating
> materials which can be put behind and above the joint to prevent
> ignition, and a water hose can be turned on and ready).
> As Wolfie mentioned, most bale buildings which have burned - and all
> but two of the total losses that I can think of - have been a result
> of stray sparks igniting loose straw while under construction.
> If I were an insurance company I'd be quite comfortable providing fire
> insurance on a finished bale building but really nervous about
> construction insurance.
> --
> Bill Christensen
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