Guest Post: Bridging The Gap Between Fire Safety and Sustainable Design

As we do more and more to incorporate a sustainable approach to design we do so at a risk. One of the most contentious aspects of sustainable design is that it lessens a buildings capacity to cope with serious fire.

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Potential Limitations of Sustainable Buildings

The US National Association of State Fire Marshals has suggested that a number of today’s green developments discourage pedestrian traffic and favour large walkways which make it harder for fire-fighters to obtain access to building interiors and that the use of some lightweight materials can pose a bigger fire risk to those tackling the fire as well as the public and surrounding buildings.

The use of permeable surfaces used to reduce water waste have been criticised as these surfaces sometimes lack the strength to hold the weight of the fire trucks and the equipment required to tackle the fires.

Landscaping too has been cited as another cause for concern. By placing trees and plants in close proximity to the building, the level of access required by fire-fighters to tend the fire is significantly reduced making their job much more problematic.

Some of the glazing systems used in sustainable designs have been brought into question for being too difficult to break in case of an emergency due to the use of certain blast resistant films which are challenging to penetrate with standard tools.

Workable Solutions

An attempt is taking place to balance emergency access with more pedestrian-friendly design by incorporating specially designed areas to house fire-fighting equipment together with clearly marked surfaces which indicate that they are not suitable for heavy trucks.

More attention is also being given to detailing when it comes to planning landscaping to ensure that correct spacing is afforded to plants and trees to account for future growth and the spread of potential fires.

Doing more to alert fire-fighters about the use of foam installations in buildings and ensuring that they’re installed in accordance to the manufactures specifications is also important.

Green roofs should be designed in such a way that they allow fire-fighters fuller access and should include perimeter setbacks and pathways.

Introducing sprinkler systems for all buildings designed using lightweight materials and doing more to guarantee correct support for rainwater storage systems to prevent any structural failure and identifying any underground rainwater storage for the fire trucks can be found on this list.

The works with business owners to help them manage their fire safety compliance responsibilities.

Image: Smoke winding loops on a black background from Shutterstock