The problems with modular homes: Built to burn?
When we discuss the problems with modern methods of construction, mainly lightweight/engineered wood components, we usually think about the site-built homes. In a Fire Engineering article Chief Kevin Gallagher of the Acushnet (MA) Fire & EMS Department considers the problems of modular homes, which are factory-built and then towed in sections to be installed at a permanent location, and range from “simple capes to multibox McMansions.” The chief recounts a fire in a two-story, prefabricated/modular residence in 2008 and says; “Despite our department's best efforts, the structure was a complete loss…we never had a chance to save it. Fox Boston covered the fire incident in a previous report. He tells us that research to learn about the methods of construction used by the modular industry has been the subject of several other Fire Engineering articles. He says very serious concerns were discovered; mainly:”large void spaces between levels of habitation, the use of flammable adhesives as the sole means of attaching gypsum to wood ceiling joists, and the presence of holes used to assist in lifting modular boxes onto the foundation, which can create an easy pathway for fire spread.” He adds; “Our goal has been two-fold. First, we identify the flaws with the construction methods used. Second, we fight for change through the code development process. Third, we spread the word to any and all fire service members of these hazards and the tactical changes the hazards require.” The problem was documented in a Fox Boston report. Chief Gallagher concludes; “Do we have a problem? My answer, since the moment I pulled up on a fire in a modular structure, is an emphatic YES! My sense is that those firefighters who have dealt with fires in these types of buildings would agree.” He says he will “dig deeper, share valuable information and, hopefully, provide you with an awareness and appreciation for the hazards within modular construction” in the following months. Although Chief Gallagher does not talk about fire sprinklers as a way to offset the problem in this particular issue, it should be a major consideration for home fire sprinkler advocates. Get a free copy of the dangers of lightweight construction presentation.