The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is funding a three-year project through the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) aimed at identifying and reducing potential risks posed by "green" elements in newer buildings. The $1 million project is a follow-up to the 2012 report commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation that identified dozens of these concerns and how research could pinpoint mitigation tactics.
In his initial research, Brian Meacham, associate professor of fire protection engineering at WPI, compiled a list of 78 green building features and construction elements that could pose risks to firefighters and occupants. Lightweight engineered lumber, for instance, uses less material and could present risks during fires for its propensity to collapse more quickly than conventional timber construction.
Meacham will collaborate with the Foundation and NFPA to further explore these and other hazards for the new project as well as suggested modifications for firefighting tactics in green buildings. Home fire sprinklers might also be suggested as a potential mitigation measure, says Meacham.
"There's no argument that builders need to create a more sustainably built environment," he says. "However, providing safe environments for building occupants and first responders is equally essential. Through this research, we look to identify areas in which sustainable or green building solutions might create fire safety concerns, and then develop data, tools, and methods to help reduce the fire risk."
For more information on the 2012 report highlighting the safety challenges of green buildings, read the feature story in NFPA Journal.