When built correctly the timber frame industry maintains that their houses are as safe as conventional masonry buildings.
In conventional two-storey homes the risks to householders from the rapid spread of fire are minimised because of relative ease of escape. But there are big worries about multi-storey social housing where timber frame has gained in popularity and residential care homes.
Poor quality building
A dossier of damning evidence obtained from investigators reports by the Fire Protection Association tells another story about risks associated with using timber frame building techniques.
In theory well designed buildings should be safe, in practice builders are often failing to fit appropriate fire stopping measures needed to prevent the spread of flames through floor, ceiling and wall cavities.
Routine repairs and refurbishment carried out long after the building was completed can compromise firewalls and protection measures increasing the risks of fires spreading.
The Department of Communities and Local Government published the first evidence of the faster spread of timber frame fires in buildings in August 2010. It found fires in these dwellings tend to suffer greater fire and heat damage spreading over larger areas in comparison with other types of building.
The insurance industry is concerned that fire losses can be higher because fires can spread further through timber frame buildings, leading to whole buildings being condemned.
Chief fire officers also warn timber frame fires are harder to tackle because fire in wall and floor cavities is difficult identify and access to extinguish. Several fire brigades report they have had to return to buildings many hours after a fire was put out to tackle a secondary outbreak from a hidden cavity.
There are growing concerns about evacuating residents from high-rise housing and nursing homes.
In October 2010, fire officers managed to help dozens of elderly residents to safety just before a fire destroyed their timber-frame built care home in Inverness. The prompt action of firefighters, nursing home staff, and nearby residents helped to avert a tragedy.