A Bad Idea

From the same stroll as yesterday, a row of wood-framed houses. I’m sure if I went looking I could find an explanation of the architectural style, but it feels like a shotgun marriage between the Italianate style so common with rowhouses in New York and carpenters’ gothic. They are slightly bizarre and quite pretty. They’re also a mistake, at least from the fire-protection perspective.

The history of building fires has shown that rowhouses are more vulnerable to fire spread than houses separated by a reasonable distance – at least six feet – unless there are specific design details used to prevent the spread. The building codes of the 1890s contain those details in prescriptive language: solid masonry party walls, parapets that extend high enough above the roof to prevent fire on one roof from simply spreading laterally to its neighbor, joist pockets offset within the party walls to prevent a burning joist from setting its counterpart in the next building alight. If you have an all-wood row, even if the walls have brick nogging as fireproofing, the neighboring houses are more vulnerable to fire than they should be.

We discuss rowhouses, including wood rows, at some length in City of Brick and Steel.

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