Fire-Resistant Fabric: Key to Protecting Billions of Power Poles?

It's a win-win-win. Polesaver has the solution for the world's utility network.

Wed 22 May 24


A specially designed fire-protection fabric could hold the key to protecting billions of utility timber poles at a time when climate change-induced mega-fires risk the long-term safety of utility networks.

It comes as Canada’s wildfire season has roared back to life, sending harmful smoke from Alberta into Wisconsin and Minnesota, whilst Australia and Indonesia are both counting the cost of severe fire seasons.

Earlier this month, Wood Central reported that PacificCorp, a utility company 92% owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, was involved in a US $30 billion class action suit after its faulty utility poles led to one of Oregan’s worst fire seasons, prompting Mr Buffett to warn that wildfire could threaten the survival of utility outcomes across the United States: “When the dust settles, America’s power needs and the consequent capital expenditure will be staggering,” Mr Buffett told investors late last year.

Warren Buffett has long supported utilities, with Berkshire Hathaway owning 92% of the now under-siege PacificCorp, the second-largest utility company in Oregon. Footage courtesy of @BuffettAnswers.

This is why the UK-based Polesaver created its fire protection product. The fabric, which shields utility poles from exposure to fire, is proven to withstand multiple wildfires and is a viable solution to fire damage of wooden utility poles.

This product complements its dual-layer Polesaver ground-line barrier sleeve, which prevents ground-line decay in wooden utility poles. It was introduced to the utility market in 2010 after developing the concept in 1994 with a lighter-weight version for the fencing market. Today, Polesaver’s “proven utility pole protection” is used in more than 35 countries worldwide.

The United States energy distribution network is the world's largest and most expensive power network. More than 2 million miles of timber-based power poles, made from Yellow Southern Pine, Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar connect it's 50 states, and 14 different territories. (Photo Credit: Image created by Wood Central using OpenAI technology)
The United States energy distribution network is the world’s largest and most expensive power network. More than 2 million miles of timber-based power poles, made from Yellow Southern Pine, Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar, connect its 50 states and 14 different territories. (Photo Credit: Image created by Wood Central using OpenAI technology)
About Polesaver: A lifesaver for under-siege utility networks?

Last week, Wood Central spoke to Richard George, CEO of Polesaver, who said that increased extreme weather events and rising temperatures are causing utility companies to rethink maintenance programmes.

“It’s a combination of wood decay, wildfires and extreme weather that can cause poles to break, Mr George said, 

Under its Postsaver brand, the company works with Home Depot and other “big sheds” in the UK and North American markets and is now working with a growing number of overseas utility providers. It also runs a highly effective marketing campaign, using various social platforms to persuade specifiers to use the product.

Polesaver protection increases the life of wooden utility pole stock by +20 years from the start. It partners with utility companies globally to increase wooden utility pole life from the start, regardless of the wood type or preservative used. Footage courtesy of @polesaver.

Our products come at a small additional cost— but “it ultimately offers a longer-life product which improves pole durability and resistance to the impact of extreme weather events,” Mr George said, adding there’s an opportunity to not only demonstrate environmental benefit through the lifecycle but also add value through the supply chain. “It’s a premium product, a value-add.”

According to Mr George, the key is not to look for alternatives to wood-based utilities, which are “still (by far) the most environmentally friendly carbon product.” Instead, it is important to buy wood “but make it last longer” and use innovative solutions, including sleeves, fabric or both, “to reduce pressure on the forest green.”

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Polesaver now has a global distribution network, supplying utility companies in 35 different countries. (Photo Credit: Polesaver)

Polesaver—which launched its fire protection fabric in 2014 —can be applied in minutes, saves on pole replacement, has proven to withstand multiple fires and has the data to prove it!

“The sleeves can add an extra 20 years to the life of the utility pole,” he said, which can “compete with the competition like steel, concrete or composite poles in terms of lifecycle analysis.” A new gold standard at a time when utility poles are turning to life cycle analysis to demonstrate the sustainability of materials.

“I think that’s the key point of difference that we offer when it comes to utilities,” Mr George said, adding that “maintaining the strength of the pole in the ground line (is also key), as this is the most stressed part of the pole.”

Polesaver composite barrier sleeves prevent ground rot in wooden utility poles, the number one cause of pole failure. Footage courtesy of @polesaver.

Polesaver’s groundline barrier sleeve can also prevent ground contamination from wood preservatives. ” We are seeing this as a growing source of concern with utilities.” So, “we’re ticking both boxes: the threat of poles falling over and contamination into the soils.”

With FAO projecting that the global supply of timbers may not keep up with demand, Mr George said that creating higher-value and more durable timber products provided a valid and better solution than using alternative pole materials.

“It helps to maintain trust in the industry whilst providing an environmentally friendly pole that meets the needs of utilities” Mr George said. And that has to be a win-win-win, for the producer, the customer, and, most important of all, the environment. 


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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