The Intersection of Green Building Design and Fire Safety

  November 24, 2014

Today's tip of the day is about the intersection of green building design and fire safety.

In just the past several years, there's been an ever-increasing amount of research regarding fire safety in high-performance buildings.

The cornerstone of such research is a 2012 report titled "Fire Safety Challenges of Green Buildings" by researchers at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Because "there are many sustainable building features and products that singly or together may have an impact on fire safety" the report endeavors to set a "baseline of information on the intersection of 'green building' design and fire safety." In August of 2013, WPI received a $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security to continue studying the issue for three more years.

Prior to the WPI study, in August 2010, two former fire marshals named Jim Tidwell and Jack Murphy published a report titled "Bridging the Gap — Fire Safety and Green Buildings." This report details why "it's imperative that those who are developing green buildings techniques, regulations, and materials receive fire service input during the development of these products in order to effectively address the firefighter safety and the public safety impact of their actions."

In essence, these two documents cover the two main questions in regards to fire safety and high-performance buildings. First, are the materials used in high-performance buildings inherently less fire safe than those used in traditional buildings? And secondly, are there common high-performance design strategies that may inhibit fire fighters' abilities to fight a fire in a high-performance building?

While, of course, neither question has a simple "yes" or "no" answer, what is more certain is that high-performance strategies and materials do have an impact on fire safety that must be considered. Because many high-performance building materials and strategies are different than the norm, using them in buildings means consciously considering if or how they'll affect a building's ability both to meet fire code and to be fire safe.


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