Legislative Alert: New Jersey Fire Renews Calls to Ban Wood Construction

A large fire at a Maplewood, New Jersey, apartment complex nearing completion has reignited controversy over the use of conventional light-frame construction. The Maplewood complex was being built by the same developer that built the Avalon Bay Edgewater property that burned down in 2015.

The mayor of Maplewood says that Avalon Bay followed all the right protocols and met or exceeded all the safety standards. Since the Edgewater fire, AvalonBay voluntarily increased the fire protection and suppression they installed in the Maplewood facility. However, those weren’t operational yet since the building was still under construction.

The fire on February 4, has spurred renewed efforts to change the building code in New Jersey. Currently, there are five bills in the state legislature from various interest groups calling for changes in the building codes. Local Maplewood politicians including Mayor Liz Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes were among those who tried to get the laws changed two years ago, but those measures have gone nowhere over the intervening years. At the time of the Edgewater fire, SBCA wrote letters to elected officials, the fire service and building officials outlining the reasons why wood truss and wall panel framing was not to be blamed for the blaze.

SBCA will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates if there appears to be any forward movement on legislation intended to alter the building code away from wood construction. If any of our readers has information about this issue, please let us know. In addition, if any SBCA member has local fire service, building official or legislative contacts in New Jersey that SBCA staff could reach out to, please let us know and we’ll initiate these conversations.

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