A research project on balanced design of multifamily housing could help increase concrete's share of a growing market and improve fire safety in design of multifamily structures. In an attempt to reduce fire losses in multifamily residences, building codes and local communities usually rely on sprinklers and smoke detectors, often at the expense of fire-resistant construction. The concrete and masonry industries want to reverse this trend by promoting the concept of balanced design. This concept recognizes that all four components of fire safety--detection, suppression, containment, and education--must be used to achieve the desired result of reduced fire losses.
The Georgia Multifamily Construction Advisory Committee (GMCAC) has proposed a test project to demonstrate the value of balanced design. The project involves building a three-unit building and documenting the effects of fire on various construction products used in its construction. The three units--A, B, and C--will be constructed according to different possible scenarios for house fires. Unit A is constructed with masonry walls and a hollow-core prestressed concrete floor/ceiling assembly separation to the attic, which represents a separate occupancy on the floor above. These walls and ceilings provide one means of achieving the 2-hour non-combustible construction proposed. Units B and C represent typical wood-frame construction corresponding to Type VI construction in the Standard Building Code. Walls between the units are built with 1-hour fire resistance. Units A and B will represent units without sprinklers, whereas unit C will have operational sprinklers. A fire will first be ignited in Unit A, where it will be permitted to burn for 1 hour and 45 minutes without sprinklers. The fire in Unit B will be allowed to burn for only 45 minutes, and if the 1 hour floor/ceiling separation is breached, the operational sprinkler system in C should stop the spread.