If there was an inherent fire hazard issue with timber frame construction in the UK, it could, potentially, be inviting catastrophe to ignore it. A problem swept under the carpet almost invariably returns to haunt the sweeper, usually with interest.

By the same token, if allegations are made about timber frame that do not stack up, the industry clearly cannot sit on its hands and hope the damaging publicity will go away. Timber frame in this country is growing strongly, but it’s still vulnerable in terms of popular perception. It was dealt a near fatal blow in the 1980s by that TV documentary which highlighted poor construction standards. And, of course, it remains a widespread public misconception that timber is, by definition, a flammable material.

So, the BRE and Chiltern Fire International were quite right to come out fighting after the article in Building magazine 10 days ago. This implied that, due to low construction standards and ignorance about the building method in the UK, it is only a matter of time before we have a devastating timber frame fire. And it based some of its argument on an interpretation of findings from the TF2000 timber frame research project reported at a joint BRE and Chiltern workshop. The Building article contained riders and provisos, and pointed out that the research organisations and the UK Timber Frame Association are working to raise standards in the sector. But from an initial read and the inflammatory cover, the impression many readers will take away is that a British timber frame house is a bonfire in building form.

Both BRE and Chiltern maintain that the Building report misinterpreted views expressed at the seminar and wrongly extrapolated findings from fire tests on experimental structures at TF2000 into industry-wide fire hazard problems.

The impact of such an article in an industry ‘bible’ like Building could be severe, and it’s likely to be seized on with relish by the brick, block, cement and steel lobbies.

Let’s hope the response of the industry and its continuing work to make timber frame an even more reliable, environment-ally friendly and safe building method is more than a match for the bad publicity.