U.S. unlikely to see deadly ‘green’ building fire like London’s

The deadly fire that engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower last week was fueled by commonly used “green energy” upgrades found on tens of thousands of buildings across the world, sparking concerns that a similar event could happen in the United States.

It’s unknown what sparked the Grenfell Tower fire, but the exterior cladding, or exterior insulation, added in 2015 to comply with “green energy” requirements, allowed the fire to quickly engulf the building, reports The Daily Caller.

Thousands of U.S. buildings also have cladding to increase energy efficiency, but that doesn’t mean that a Grenfell-like fire is likely to happen, said Robert Solomon, who heads the building fire protection division at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

“I don’t see this happening in the U.S.,” Solomon told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We actually apply a very constrictive and restrictive test protocol to those types of systems on buildings.”

“There’s not a comparable system applied to the cladding in the U.K.”

NFPA is a 121-year-old group founded by the insurance industry to set building and fire codes that local governments can adopt. The group puts any building efficiency upgrades through rigorous fire testing.

Experts say that flames were able to engulf Grenfell Tower so quickly because a space between the cladding and the building created a chimney effect through which the fire rapidly spread upward.

Lots of high-rise buildings use cladding to increase energy efficiency and to give the building a more modern look. Drive through downtown Washington, D.C., for example, and you’ll see dozens of high-rises with glassy exteriors. That’s cladding.

U.S. builders have been using cladding since the 1970s, but mostly on low-rise buildings, so any fires were small and nothing on the scale of the recent London fire, which killed at least 30 people with dozens more wounded or missing.

Since that time, U.S. localities have developed strict fire safety testing programs and building codes to mitigate fire risks, Solomon said. There’s no equivalent fire safety testing system in the U.K., he said.

“These cladding systems are put on to help energy efficiency, to help with moisture, to help with snow and rain,” he said. “They also have an aesthetic quality.”

Plans to add cladding to U.S. buildings go through a testing regime, called NFPA 285. The testing regime simulates how a fire would spread through various building materials used to make cladding.

Builders then work to use materials that can limit the spread of fires. They must install cladding exactly how it’s laid out in the fire simulation.

“If you’re going to do this cladding system, this is the test protocol you have to pass,” Solomon said. “It’s very difficult to pass.”

As for the U.S., a Grenfell-style fire may be unlikely, but that doesn’t mean it could never happen or that officials and building owners shouldn’t stay vigilant, The Daily Caller said.


Topics: Architectural Firms, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Engineering Firms, Exteriors, Highrise Residential, Insulation, Sustainable Communities, Thermal Envelope - Building Envelope, Urban Planning and Design, Ventilation, Wall Systems / Curtain Walls

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