Design for fire

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Design For Fire

Fire ratings can be achieved with timber in a number of ways. The three most common are:

  • Protecting timber by covering it with a good insulator such as fire-rated plasterboard - this means that the timber takes longer to get to ignition temperature and can remain functional for a longer period while the fire is burning.
  • Using oversized timber - this will allow for loss of material charring throughout the burn period, and there will still be enough timber remaining in the cross-section to give it the required strength.
  • Treating timber with fire-retardant chemicals - this delays the initiation of combustion, and can prevent the spread of flame. 

Protection with insulators
A number of building system manufacturers have had their systems tested and a fire resistance level (FRL) awarded to the system. The implementation of the system in design is simply a matter of ensuring that the design complies with the specified building system and that all of the details at the edge of the system are able to prevent a fire from bypassing the system that has been adopted. The previous tests demonstrate the performance of the system so that it is 'deemed to satisfy' the provisions of the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

In the wall system pictured, fire performance is achieved through the installation of fire-rated plasterboard each side of the double stud wall as well as insulation between them. This system serves two functions as it also provides superior sound insulation characteristics; there is little solid material between the two faces of the wall to act as a 'sound bridge'.

Protection by oversizing

Timber burns from the external surfaces only. After ignition of the timber, there will be a charred region which acts as an insulator and tends to protect the wood fibres in the centre of the beam. With time, some of the timber cross-section is lost. However, the remaining timber can and does have structural strength and stiffness.

The sizing of timber to allow sufficient residual strength after a fire can be achieved by following AS 1720.4. This part of the Timber Structures Code models burning as a constant char rate (based on species density). This is used to determine the size of the residual section that is required to carry the load at the time of the fire. The Code also gives help in determining the fire limit state loading, which is significantly less than the loads required to meet ultimate strength limit states.


Typical char rates are about 0.5 mm/min for hardwoods and 0.65 mm/min for softwoods. In addition to the loss of section attributed to charring, AS 1720.4 also applies a further envelope reduction of 7.5 mm to account for heat-affected timber. Most timber structures where charring is used to achieve BCA-specified fire ratings are made from large sections. These are most commonly available as glulam or LVL sections. Fire tests have shown that the glulam or LVL members can be regarded as solid timber for the application of AS 1720.4.

To view a list of fire test reports available for download, please visit the Fire Test Report page

This section contains the following WoodSolutions Technical Design Guides that can be downloaded at the base of this page:

  • TDG 1 Timber-framed Construction for Townhouse Buildings Class 1a - this design guide assists in complying with fire safety and sound insulation performance requirements in the BCA for Class 1a attached buildings.
  • TDG 2 Timber-framed Construction for Multi-residential Buildings Class 2, 3 & 9c - this design guide assists in complying with fire and sound performance requirements in the BCA for Class 2, 3 and 9c buildings. 
  • TDG 3 Timber-framed Construction for Commercial Buildings Class 5, 6, 9a & 9b - this design guide assists in complying with fire performance requirements in the BCA for Class 5, 6, 9a and 9b buildings.
  • TDG 4 Building with timber in bushfire-prone areas - this design guide has been written to help architects, designers, builders and owners to understand the Construction of Building in bushfire prone areas Standard AS 3959 and in particular what construction requirement is required for traditional building methods using timber for each Bushfire Attack Level (BAL).
  • TDG 5 Timber service life design - design guide for durability - this guide will give building and construction industry professionals the confidence in determining the service life timber in a wide range of applications, from sole plates to suspension bridges. 
  • TDG 6 Timber-framed Construction - sacrificial timber construction joint - this provides common details for using sacrificial timber blocks to maintain a Fire Resistance Level.
  • TDG 15 Fire Design - a summary of fire safety design process for EXPAN-developed systems, including timber concrete composite (TCC) floors, timber cassette floors and post-tensioned timber beams without any fire-rated lining or additional protection.
  • TDG 20 Fire Precautions During Construction of Large Buildings - this guide provides information to help people and organisations with responsibilities for fire safety on a construction site to reduce the risk of fire.

Please note that you will have to be a registered user of WoodSolutions and logged in to download the resources below.

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