Monday, 1 June 2015

Fire Protection and Rammed Earth Construction

Welcome to the latest blog for The Cabin in the Woods rammed earth home project.  While I prepare for the foundation pour pictures and blog (next time), I thought I would tell a scary house story about how easily fire can spread into a stick frame wall.  On Sunday April 12, 2015 our 1996 stick frame house that we currently live in caught fire, YIKES!!! 

As luck would have it my brother-in-law, who is an aspiring fire fighter, was staying with us at the time.  He knew exactly what to do and how to put out the fire.  After we ripped apart an exterior wall to get at the smoke we could really see what had caused the fire.  As it turns out the OSB wood sheathing passed directly behind our exterior masonry chimney with 1/2" clearance between the two materials.  This configuration has worked fine for the 19 years prior to the fire, but for one reason or another the creosote in the masonry chimney caught fire and super-heated the masonry chimney close to the ground.  There was enough heat radiating from the masonry, and enough time had passed that the sheathing in the wall started to burn and the vapor barrier melted.  We ripped the wall apart from the outside to access the smoking wall cavity and poured water into the masonry chimney to put out the fire within.  Thanks to Otter Point fire department for showing up to inspect the walls and confirm the fire had not spread throughout the wall above the area we ripped apart. 

Reflecting back on the fire, which occurred at 8:00am, I feel extremely lucky as it could have happened while everyone was sleeping or not home to respond quickly to the situation.   We could have lost our house or worse.

Everything in the house was built to the BC building code and still a life-threatening situation resulted from everyday heating of the house.  We regularly clean our chimney during fire season and were up on the maintenance needed to be safe with a wood-burning stove.  This made me think that if a house cannot catch fire, it’s a safe assumption that death, property loss, or serious injury is less likely to occur.  Building with materials that do not catch fire, such as rammed earth, would have avoided this problem.  Chimney fires are probably not very common but I never thought it could happen to me…and it did.

Thanks for reading this blog and please share it on your social media.  Feel free to comment below or email me at

Next time we will have a blog and pictures of the footings being constructed using Fab-Form Fastfoot fabric footings. 

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