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Singapore to take a leaf from Europe in use of prefab timber structures

The threat of fire and wood-eating termites are two areas of concern when it comes to building with timber, but those with experience in working with the material say there are solutions at hand.

Projects on two to four Government Land Sale sites every year will be picked to showcase new construction technologies, as Singapore gradually ramps up productivity in the sector. These technologies will include Cross Laminated Timber, or prefabricated wood structures, which have been cleared by local fire authorities as being safe for use.

Singapore has adopted European design codes for timber, which include fire precautions and other engineering considerations when building with wood. London, for example, is emerging as a city that is seeing a mini-renaissance in the use of timber for building projects.

When completed, Banyan Wharf - a 10-storey residential and commercial project in the English capital - will be be the tallest cross-laminated timber building in Europe. The development uses cross-laminated timber wood for its floors and walls.

Singapore has studied how European projects keep timber structures safe and secure - against risks such as fire. Thanks to modern construction techniques, timber structures can be designed to withstand a blaze. Said Mr Nick Milestone, Project Director for Banyan Wharf: “This is solid wood and not timber frame. Basically wood chars at 0.7 millimetres per minute, therefore anything over 42 mm thick will take more than one hour to crack.”

When flames come into contact with a wooden surface, the charring produces a layer of charcoal that actually slows down the penetration of fire. As fire needs oxygen in order to burn, and oxygen isn’t present within the core of the timber structure, the inside of the structure remains intact for quite a while even as flames lick the outside.

Another issue is the threat of wood-eating termites. Mr Markus Tiling, Director of Timber Concept said this problem can be overcome with chemicals: “If you put chemicals onto the wood or into the wood, the wood becomes not so interesting for the termites and the insects.”

Alternatively, timber can be overlaid with protective layers of other material, which further guard wooden building structures from fire or insects. Such hybrid structures can be seen in London properties like Bridport House.

Singapore’s fire regulations now allow timber to be used alongside other materials like concrete for building.

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