All small houses may be classified into four types, according to their construction. The first type is the commonest and is the wooden-frame structure. This has exterior walls and interior partitions built of light wooden studs, and the floors and ceilings framed with wooden joists. The exterior walls may be covered with clapboard, shingles, stucco, brick veneer, or stone veneer. The roof is generally covered with wooden shingles, although slate, tile, asbestos, and asphalt shingles are often used. These houses are the most numerous, because the cost of wood in the past has been so much less than other materials that they appealed to the average builder's financial sense. However, the cost of such dwellings to the country as a whole has been very high, for they are extremely dangerous when attacked by fire. More than twenty-two millions of dollars are wasted by fire each year in these houses. They also cost us a great deal in up-keep. It would be interesting to see what was the total cost per year to repaint them and keep the roofs in order. It certainly would run into the millions. Although wood increased from about $30.00 per thousand board feet to about $85.00 in the Eastern markets from pre-war days, and is now dropping below $55.00, yet the wooden house is still listed as the cheapest, for the cost of other materials has also increased, as brick from $10.00 per thousand to $23.00 until very recently, and cement from $2.00 to $3.25 per barrel. In any comparison of cost the wooden-frame building is taken as the base or cheapest type of construction, although it is the most expensive in up-keep and fire-hazard of all. Until the price of wood increases in excessive proportion to other materials, there is no doubt that this type of house will be the commonest. However, there is much that can be done to make them more fire-resisting, and, although we cannot look to the speculative builders to use such methods, since they increase the costs slightly, yet the architect should not overlook them.
Type I Wooden Frame.
The second type of dwelling which is next in vogue has exterior walls of stone, brick, concrete, or terra-cotta, and interior floors, partitions, and roof of wooden-frame construction. These are very slightly more fireproof than the wooden-frame structure, and as a class they are more costly in the beginning, but require less expense in up-keep. They resist attack from external fires better than the wooden-frame building, but if the fire starts within, they will burn just as readily. Although the fire loss per year of this class is not nearly as great as for the first type, yet it must be appreciated that there are not so many of them. The chief advantage of the masonry house of this second type lies in the lowered cost of up-keep, longer life, and saving of heating-fuel in the winter. A great deal of literature has been circulated by brick, cement, and hollow terra-cotta tile manufacturers by which the public has been educated to believe that this type of structure is much more fire-resisting than it is. Of course this campaign of education was intended to stimulate interest in their product, and it had no unselfish motive back of it. The result of this propaganda is evident in the public belief that such houses are fireproof houses, while as a matter of fact they are not.
Type II Masonry and Wood.
The third class of dwelling is quite rare, and very few small houses are built that could be classified under it. Some builders call them fireproof houses, although this is erroneous. These buildings have walls, roofs, floors, and partitions built of incombustible materials, but the finished floors, the trim, windows, and doors are of wood. The exterior walls are of masonry construction, and the construction of the floors and roofs consists of steel beams with terra-cotta arches or concrete floor slabs, spanning in between them, and the partitions are of terracotta, gypsum, metal lath and plaster, or other similar materials. They may also be built of reinforced concrete throughout, or any other combination of these materials. There have been very few examples of this kind of construction used in the small house. It is an unfortunate condition that it is more adaptable to the costly mansion than to the average house of the middle-class citizen, for the high cost of construction of this character, in most cases, permits it to be used only by the wealthy man. Examples where such houses have been built generally show an investment of $30,000 or more, or, if they were built to-day, $50,000 or more. Those attempts to use this form of construction in the small house have been made by large building corporations, and have been chiefly represented by concrete houses of very ugly design.
Type II • Masonry walls • Interior-Wood.
Type III. Walls, floors, partitions fire-proof, but windows, doors and trim of wood.
The fourth and last type of dwelling is the ideal fireproof house, but it is so costly that very few examples exist. This type can be termed fireproof with accuracy, for all structural parts, including doors, windows, and trim, are of incombustible materials. Metal trim is used or wood that has been treated to make it fire-resisting. This latter class of construction is so out of the reach of the average home-builder, on account of its cost, that its value cannot be thoroughly appreciated. Practically the only examples in existence are large mansions, built by wealthy clients.
Cost Does Not Indicate Fire-Resistance. - In this classification of buildings it would almost seem that the cost of a building indicated its fireproof qualities. This is not true, however. There are many expensive dwellings which are just as great fire-traps as the less expensive ones. In both cases the fire hazards are the same, if they are built of the same type of construction. In fact, we could build a $60,000 dwelling according to Type II, and also a $10,000 one according to Type II, and make the latter more fire-resisting than the former by using certain precautions of construction in which the spread of fire is retarded.
Except in unusual cases, the construction of the ordinary dwelling will be either according to the first or second type, and any fire precautions that are desirable must be applicable to them. Most comparisons of relative costs are made between the dwellings included under these two types, and the difference will be mostly a difference in the kind of exterior walls used in the construction. In fact, if any comparisons are made between different kinds of buildings, as to their relative costs, it is essential that only one feature be made variable and that all others be kept the same.