The move toward sustainable development seems intuitive; why shouldn’t society demand greener and more efficient sources of energy? In the last blog, we explained the need to address the consequences of green construction on fire safety concerns. And the first step toward finding a solution is to fully understand the problem.

When we assess the plight of a client, we take an enormous number of factors into careful consideration. The same is true for green buildings. Every unique element must be reexamined through the lens of fire protection.

From structural components to ventilation systems, every element matters. This includes:

  • Insulation: In greater quantities, insulation can help offset extreme temperatures and increase energy efficiency. It can also exacerbate an existing fire by adding additional fuel.
  • Lightweight engineered lumber (LEL): Due to their functionality and cost-effectiveness, LELs are increasingly replacing conventional structural materials. When a fire breaks out, though, these materials have been shown to burn faster and potentially lead to complete structural failure.
  • Photovoltaic (solar) panels: Solar energy is becoming accessible and increasingly common among both commercial and residential structures. The panels can also pose an electrocution risk to firefighters attempting to access a blaze from the roof.
  • Vegetation: Many green structures bring the outside in. While this may make the air in the office a little fresher, it’s something to contend with in the event of a fire.
  • Site selection: The building itself isn’t the only concern for firefighters. Many businesses are making the move away from traditionally corporate real estate and toward pedestrian-friendly ecological neighborhoods. This can have major implications for emergency vehicles attempting to reach a burning building.

These are just a sampling of the issues fire protection engineers face as the green movement continues to thrive. The best solutions are as complex as the problems themselves, checking the boxes of safety, health, efficiency, cost, and practicality.

Fire safety organizations are addressing the issue head-on. The Fire Protection Research Foundation has developed a highly specific methodology that cross-references green building elements, risk factors and performance measurements. Over the next three years, they will compile valuable data and take meaningful steps toward realistic solutions.

In the next part of our green building series, we’ll address specific situations regarding green elements and fire risk.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.