Fire sprinklers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from building fires by 98%, research finds

Published:  20 April, 2010

Study from FM Global and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition finds other environmental benefits too.

Greenhouse gases released by burning buildings can be reduced by 98 percent when automatic fire sprinklers are installed, according to a groundbreaking joint research project from FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers, and the nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC). The research findings also reveal that a single fire in an unsprinklered building can negate the typical environmental benefits of “green” construction.

The study, conducted at FM Global’s Research Campus in West Glocester, RI, USA, sought to identify, analyse and evaluate the environmental impact of fires, as well as determine the effectiveness of preventive measures in minimising their effect on the environment—issues of increasing global significance.

Researchers constructed two identical living rooms to represent a setting any homeowner or business owner could relate to. One of the two rooms was protected with a sprinkler and a fire was ignited in each room. As a result, scientists additionally have discovered that automatic fire sprinklers:

  • Reduce fire damage by up to 97 percent;

  • Reduce water usage to fight a home fire by upwards of 90 percent; and

  • Reduce the amount of water pollution released into the environment.

“For most of its 175 years in business, FM Global has conducted scientific fire research to develop solutions that help commercial organisations protect their property and operations,” said Dr. Louis Gritzo, vice president and manager of research at FM Global. “Fire sprinklers perform the same way, no matter the kind of building, and now we see conclusively that they not only prevent the devastating impact of fires but also negate significant environmental risks. This is especially important as more businesses seek to design and build energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable facilities.”

According to Gary Keith, HFSC chair, when sprinklers activate, they control the heat, flames and smoke released by a fire, effectively mitigating the products of combustion. “The fire safety community’s efforts to increase awareness of all aspects of fire sprinkler technology will benefit from this new environmental data. Consumers, builders, the fire service, code officials and water purveyors now have a new and important way to view sprinkler protection,” Keith said.

Exclusive interview with Industrial Fire Journal

Speaking exclusively with Jose Sanchez de Muniain, Dr. Louis Gritzo said that loss prevention had been identified by FM Global as an integral part of sustainable development. “And the tests done and documented in the report are the first time that sound numbers have been gained from data that allow us to really determine how much impact fires can have on sustainability. The unique research provides data that can be used for wise decision-making for sustainable design and retrofit.”

Dr. Gritzo went on to say that the results really drive home the benefits of sprinklers to lives, property, and now the environment. “These are important findings for those wanting to design and build more energy efficient, environmentally sustainable facilities.”

The fact that sprinkler systems per se also leave a carbon footprint has already been looked at by FM Global, in a previous report “The Influence of Risk Factors on Sustainable Development”, said Dr. Gritzo: “This report found that those carbon emissions are minimal, and that the principal source of embodied carbon is due to the manufacture and distribution of steel and there is sound data for the embodied carbon associated with those materials.”

The results for other scenarios, such as offices, commented Dr. Gritzo, should show similar benefit due to similarities in combustible materials.

The complete scientific research findings are available in a downloadable technical report “The Environmental Impact of Automatic Fire Sprinklers” here.

A video about the research also can be viewed on YouTube.

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