Fire safety in sustainable buildings : status, options, alternatives
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Sustainable design is a holistic goal of efficiency and optimization to reduce building energy consumption and environmental impact while improving occupant health and safety. Sustainable building construction is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Changes in materials, products, designs, and methodologies are occurring to accommodate this green progression. While these changes have energy and environmental benefits, questions have been raised about the impacts on fire safety. As sustainability is rapidly adopted in the building construction industry, so too must our understanding of fire safety implications. It is possible that a single fire event can negate several, if not all, elements of green design. Intermingling green design and fire safety such that they reinforce rather than undermine each other would produce a net benefit to both humans and the environment. Without this consideration, green design could unintentionally increase fire risk and damage. To begin addressing some of these concerns, a three-pronged approach was taken in this research. First, a detailed qualitative examination of the relationship between fire safety and sustainability in buildings was conducted, including a discussion on the status of the fire and sustainability communities and recommendations on areas for development and implementation to promote fire safe sustainable designs. This first analysis concludes that exchange between the sustainability and fire safety communities is inadequate. The fire safety community is focused on quantifying and tracking such implications with a concern for firefighter security and training, while the sustainability community is focused on meeting the minimum building code requirements for fire protection. Second, a quantitative analysis on thermal insulation, an essential building material, was performed to demonstrate the current options available to designers and regulators and, more generally, how to integrate both fire safety and sustainability in material selection. A pointed result of this work is that rockwool, an insulation popular in Europe but rarely used in the United States, consistently ranked as a top performer. In the third component of this work, an investigation into the viability of two alternative, reportedly environmentally benign flame retardants (FRs) was conducted for use on flexible polyurethane foam (PU), a prevalent material in interior furnishings. Several previously unknown characteristics of these unique FRs were discovered through this work, including dissimilarities to a conventional halogenated FR treatment. In summary, this research elucidates the current status of the nexus of fire safety and sustainability, offers an immediate method of selecting preferable material options, and validates sustainable FR alternatives.