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Energy efficient buildings and Fire Safety

Created on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 and posted in Fire Safety Articles
Energy efficient buildings and Fire Safety

The current development towards more energy efficient and so-called green buildings makes room for new products and technical appliances. This rapid development can have implications on fire safety. Through a series of research projects RISE aims to shed light upon this topic.

Focus on energy consumption

During recent years we have seen a growing focus on the energy consumption of buildings. This can be seen in the Norwegian building code (TEK10 and TEK17) as well as in the Norwegian standard NS 3700 “Criteria for passive houses and low energy buildings”. Also, the overall political ambition is to lower the energy consumption of buildings and homes.

When comparing old building codes (before the year 1997) to the new ones there is a notable difference in requirements when it comes to energy use, and requirements regarding facilitation for the use of renewal energy sources. When building passive houses and low energy buildings the criteria are even stricter.

New products and technical solutions

Due to the political goals and the requirements in the building code there is a growing use of advanced technology, including control systems, heat pumps, ventilation systems, solar panels etc. In addition to the technical appliances, more insulation is used, and buildings are more air-tight. This in turn creates a demand for alternative solutions and materials. The geometric characteristics of a building also impact the energy effectiveness.

All these aspects will to some degree affect planning, construction and the end-use of buildings. A new and «untraditional» solution, or a new energy consumption product, will not only affect the energy consumption of the building, but can also affect other areas within the building. This could potentially pose a hazard due to changed premises for the building.

Fundamental changes create fire safety challenges

New and alternative products for the construction of energy efficient buildings has led to a relatively quick development from traditional materials and solutions. We have therefore seen a need for identifying which consequences the development can have in terms of fire safety. In a project carried out in 2015 [1], a literature study was performed, identifying several topics of interest related to energy efficient buildings.

Energy efficient buildings and Fire Safety pic

Solar cells

One of these topics was photovoltaic installations (solar cells). The study showed that there is no easy way for the fire brigade to cut the voltage from such installations. This means that there is a risk of electrical shock for the fire brigade, when applying water, or by direct contact with the installation. Another challenge is the handling of photovoltaic installations damaged from fire. Some of the materials and components can be harmful for humans, both by skin contact and by particle inhalation.

Wood-based building products

There is an increasing interest for wood-based building products, such as cross laminated timber (CLT). These products are being used in increasingly taller and larger buildings. The use of combustible materials in construction elements is not pre-accepted in Norwegian regulations. In large buildings, there is less documentation of the use of wood-based products compared to traditional solutions using non-combustible materials, such as concrete and steel. For cross laminated timber and glue-laminated timber, there is an ongoing debate regarding which documentation is needed to deviate from pre-accepted solutions. At RISE Fire Research in Trondheim, wood-based building products and fire safety is the topic of an ongoing project in 2018, led by senior research scientist Nina Kristine Reitan.

Industry input

In a project which started in spring 2018, we are now studying the fire safety of energy efficient buildings. The project is funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) and the Norwegian Building Authority (DiBK). One of the goals is to give input to Norwegian authorities on how new products and technical solutions affect fire safety. Photovoltaic installations, batteries and extinguishing are important focus areas in these projects. Input from stakeholders within the industry who have an interest in energy efficient buildings, is an important part of the project. Brandposten’s readers are welcome to contact the project manager, Ragni Fjellgaard Mikalsen, if you want to learn more about, or contribute to the project.

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