When Notre Dame caught fire it really made me think

I watched the news video in horror: not for religious reasons, but because I appreciate and respect long lasting construction techniques and timeless architecture. The ancient roof beams that went up in flames were about 850 years old!

My short experience in northern France exposed me to more than countless cathedrals, but to many wood buildings still strong, beautiful and functional after multiple centuries.

Being involved in the modern timber frame and log home industry, I can’t help picturing the men who had handcrafted these durable wood structures hundreds of years ago. Their hardworking craftsmanship stands the test of time long after their lives are over.

Like log homes, timber frame structures are built to last generations. Each mortise and tenon joint is carefully cut and hand-finished to ensure a perfect fit. The strength and durability of this type of wood joinery is as impressive as the finished look.

But the wood beams in the Notre Dame Cathedral, as powerful as they were for nearly a millennium, still burned. Would replacing them with steel beams help create a more fire-proof structure?
Actually, no.

There is no such thing as a “fireproof” building. The contents of most buildings are combustible – and it is normally these rather than its structural components which pose the greatest fire hazard to life and property.

When exposed to fire, wood retains its strength longer than steel.
Average building fires reach temperatures of 700 to 1000°C.
Steel weakens dramatically as its temperature climbs above 230°C, retaining only 10 percent of its strength at 750°C.
Wood generally does not ignite until it reaches 250°C. Once it catches fire, wood develops a protective insulating char layer.
After 30 minutes a large wooden beam will have lost around 25 percent of its strength in a 750°C fire and retain structural integrity – a steel beam will have lost 90 percent strength and will have failed.

Large logs and timbers offer superior structural resistance to high temperatures. Even in the worst-case scenario, they help ensure you’ll get out alive.

No matter who pays to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral or how we feel about cathedrals in general (social media seems to be blowing up on this subject) it’s worth thinking about the men whose quality construction lasted so many years. Woodworkers ourselves, we respect the craftsmanship and pride that went into the joinery of the timber beams many years ago.

It has been pointed out that the Notre Dame fire isn’t truly a tragedy, rather an unfortunate chapter in the very long history of an ancient building.

And that’s worth thinking about.

It’s a reminder that today’s carefully constructed log and timber buildings will also have long lives and stories! At North American Log Crafters this is one of the things that’s so rewarding about building modern log and timber homes.

Choosing a log home or a timber frame home means you’re serious about strength and quality. You’re committed to craftsmanship and building for future generations. A few hundred years from now, it might be the only thing left of the life you live today!

We provide premium custom-milled timbers and timber joinery. Contact us today to discuss timber frame homes or timber accents for your home!

Timber buildings line the streets of the ancient quarter of Caen, Normandy, in northern France