Construction is virtually limitless in the number of unique methods available to build structures. Different materials, equipment, and systems can be determined by a construction manager or local government, with history, speed, and cost all playing roles in how structures are assembled. However, a few approved standards are used to ensure maximum fire protection when it comes to fire safety. In the United States, The National Fire Protection Association defines building construction types using five levels, each corresponding to its resistance to catching fire. Deciding which type is right is one of the first steps in planning any new construction project.
The Five Building Construction Types
Type I Construction: Noncombustible
By law, the most fire-resistant category applies to any building over 75 feet tall, whether commercial or residential, including apartment buildings, offices, and hotels. Type I buildings are designed to withstand high temperatures for a long time without collapsing. For this reason, all structural materials are non-combustible, and walls, floors, and roofs are built with reinforced concrete and protected steel. Stairwell standards are also mandated to ensure clear emergency escape routes.
Some Type I buildings also include safety features like self-pressurizing stairwells to prevent fires from spreading and make it easier for firefighters to access different areas and extinguish fires.
Type II Construction: Limited Combustibility
Similar to Type I buildings, buildings in the second category must have non-combustible walls, partitions, columns, floors, and roofs. Type II structures require fire suppression systems but may not utilize fire-resistive coatings and are prone to collapse. Schools, shopping malls, and many modern commercial structures fall under this construction type.
Type III Construction: Ordinary
Sometimes called brick-and-joist structures, Type III construction building types consist of noncombustible tilt-slap or reinforced masonry walls. Some interior structural elements are made from wood or other combustible materials.
Older Type III buildings usually contain conventionally framed roofs, while newer units tend to use lightweight roof systems. Many Type III structures include connected attics or horizontal void spaces, which provide airflow for ventilation. However, these void spaces can also make fires more likely to spread to different building parts.
Type IV Construction: Heavy Timber
Type IV buildings are typically constructed using large lumber connected with metal plates and bolts. While less common in modern buildings, churches, factories, and barns built before the 1960s frequently fit into the Type IV category.
Type IV buildings have noncombustible exterior walls and interior elements, and all wooden beams must have specific dimensional requirements to meet safety standards. For example, structural wooden supports like beams and girders must be at least 8 inches thick, while the roof and floor planks must be at least 6 inches thick. While these buildings contain more flammable material, their structural mass makes them fairly resistant to collapse.
Type V Construction: Wood-Frame
Most residential homes are built to the most lenient level of regulatory standards. Type V construction types allow for combustible exterior walls and flammable interior materials, meaning frames, walls, floors, and roofs can be made entirely or partially from wood.
Buildings of this type are simpler and cheaper to develop and are often considered ideal for single-family homes and smaller structures, like sheds and garages.
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