Wood-frame construction, like what was used in RISE Doro, is common in Florida because of its cost. But there are risks

Freeman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Wood-frame construction is permitted statewide in Florida and it’s a common choice for developers, even when it comes to high-rise apartment buildings like the downtown complex that caught fire on Sunday night and burned into Monday afternoon.

If you drive around Jacksonville, you’ll likely see a lot of new apartment buildings going up. Most of them look pretty similar, made up mostly of wood framing and what looks to be typical plywood.

So why is this the popular choice for developers? It all comes down to time and money.

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The massive fire at the RISE Doro apartment complex has many asking questions about the structural integrity of the building.

The multi-story building looks to be largely built from wood and some of the framing was exposed following the fire.

“Developers use wood now for these multifamily projects, because they’re a lot faster and a lot cheaper to build. With that wood comes the inherent danger of fire. And obviously, we’ve seen that with this incident today,” said Chris Cobb, a Jacksonville construction attorney

Cobb said fire safety is a critical consideration for any developer. Building codes require all building systems to perform at the same level of safety, regardless of the material used.

“It still has to be signed off and sealed by a structural engineer,” Cobb said. “So the structure still has to be sound, but it’s just much faster to work with wood than it is with concrete or steel.”

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Another reason most developers turn to wood-frame construction is that they can’t charge rents high enough to justify the higher cost of concrete and masonry. Most builders use pressure-treated lumber, plywood, or the ZIP system, which has a green exterior and is more weather-resistant.

Florida Fire Prevention Code does require sprinklers and fire alarms in wood-frame buildings. Officials the Doro apartment building had a fire sprinkler system, but it wasn’t activated when the fire started.

“We all have a great number of questions when it comes to the code, the city inspections, why the fire sprinkler system wasn’t activated. All those things. I just don’t know the answers to those yet,” Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan said.

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“If the project was under construction, then probably the fire stopping or fire blocking hadn’t been installed yet, which allowed the fire to go through the structure a lot quicker than had it all been completed,” Cobb said.

Despite what happened to the downtown complex, when you consider building code and other fire prevention requirements, wood construction is a relatively safe and common option for developers.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

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