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June 22, 2015

Is Wood Actually Better than Steel in a Fire?

When planning for a new building, one of the most important considerations is what material to use for the frame. While there are many factors that go into making such a decision, one that can't be ignored is that of performance in a fire. Fire is a very real threat to any structure (not to mention the people and things inside of them), and it must be taken into account when choosing a material.


If you're planning on building a new barn or other building on your property and are concerned about fire safety, you might be leaning toward steel. Wood burns and steel doesn't, right? Actually, though, wood framing, like in pole barn kits from The Pole Barn Company, may actually be a better choice.


While this might sound counter-intuitive, consider the fact that while steel doesn't melt until it reaches about 2,730°F, it will become critically unsound on a structural level at about 1,500°F. This makes total collapse very likely in any fire, even long after the flames have been extinguished.


In comparison, structural timber will generally not lose much of its rigidity until it had burned completely through. In fact, wood retains structural capacity in temperatures of up to 2,000°F. This is partly because the outside of the beam chars at initial exposure, creating a temporary insulating layer that protects the core.


To prove the point even more soundly consider a test conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in 1961. A 7x21 glulam timber and a 16x40 steel beam were loaded with roughly 12,450 lbs., and subjected to equal heat in a test furnace. After half an hour, the steel beam deflected more than 35 inches and collapsed. The wood beam deflected less than 3 inches, and 75% of the original was undamaged.


Of course, a wood building is far from “safe” when it is on fire. Always practice the following precautions in your pole barn or other wood structures.


  • Keep open fires away – camp fires, trash fires, and even backyard barbecues can be disaserous.
  • Always keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • If your building is wired for electricity, keep wires safe from animals and make sure it stays up to code. Faulty electrical systems are a major cause of fire.
  • Keep combustible materials like hay and paper away from outlets, wires, and other sources of possible combustion.

For more reference, read our blog post, Protecting Your Pole Barn from Fires.


If you're interested in learning more about custom pole barn kits for your home or property, use our easy online form by clicking this link.




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