SPOKANE, Wash. -A fire can be a homeowner’s worst nightmare, but some houses are more at risk of going up in a blaze than others.
While firefighters were mopping up a house fire near Nora Avenue and Post Street in Spokane Tuesday night, Chief Brian Schaeffer was telling reporters that the home was balloon frame constructed.
“There’s no fire stops in between the main floor and the second floor,” said Chief Schaeffer. “So fire was able to travel really quickly up those channels into the upper areas of the walls and attic area.”
Balloon style frames were primarily built between 1880 and 1930. This type has survived quite well and certainly filled a need at a time when our nation was rapidly expanding.
But they have at least one major drawback: They’re potential to be a fire hazard is much higher than newer-built homes.
In the event of a house fire, wall cavities extending from the foundation to the roof structure can be an open path for it to spread quickly, like smoke up a chimney.
So how can you tell if you live in a home with a balloon frame?
If you look around the edges of the 2nd story sub floor or attic sub floor in a balloon frame house you’d be able drop a penny down to the basement in the stud bay. In a platform frame the penny would rest right there at the break between stories.
If you have a balloon frame house you’ll want to be extra vigilant about fires for one thing. And if you can it’s time to add some fire blocking to your walls.
Fire blocking is the process of adding horizontal blocks of framing lumber between the studs (especially at the breaks of each story in the building).