Over the last decade, there has been an alarming rise in fires within buildings where exterior wall systems and façade materials contributed to the fire rather than protecting people. In many countries, the current fire safety regulations are lagging behind energy-efficiency and decarbonisation efforts in the building sector. As more and more people move to densely populated cities every year, there is an increasing need to provide safe and resilient buildings for everyone and for all purposes.
The increased focus on decarbonising buildings’ energy consumption is likely to lead to the larger electrification of buildings. This in turn increases the inherent fire risk in buildings. Last year, the Forum for European Electrical Domestic Safety1 estimated that 280,000 fires of electrical origin still occur every year throughout the EU, causing an annual average of 1,000 fatalities and property damage of 6.25 billion euro. The risk of fire in the built environment is constantly changing. Some of contributing factors include;
- Older electrical installations can be dangerous, if not maintained properly, and the average age of residential electrical installations in Europe is rising.
- Homes are now hosting new technologies, materials and systems, such as solar panels and electric vehicles.
- People are living in their homes for longer.
There is a common misconception that the buildings we live in today are safer than ever before, and that we no longer need to pay attention to fire safety. Building fires still present a major risk to urban populations, with the share of electrical fires in domestic fires growing by 5-10 percent in the EU within the last ten years1. When increasing the share of renewables or other innovative energy-efficient solutions in buildings, we need to assess the increased fire-risk and ensure a high-level of fire safety is being maintained.
In many countries, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is set to focus on renovation. This provides a unique opportunity to address current deficiencies in relation to fire safety and fire resilience. Fires in buildings have a dramatic impact on our society, the environment and the economy.
Building fires – A constant concern
Records show that between 2010 and 2021, there was a rapid rise in major building fires spread in some way via the façade of buildings. Such events devastate communities, often taking years to recover. While it is common to hear about high-profile incidents like the Grenfell fire, residential fires remain common. In the U.S. alone, almost 1,000 people lost their lives to these events during the first four months of 2021.
Although there has been a drive to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, building codes have not kept up with the inherent risks in today’s buildings and the ways in which energy renovations can impact fire performance. With Europe looking towards a Renovation Wave as part of the post-pandemic recovery plan, now is the perfect opportunity to review the fire safety regulations and ensure that codes reflect the expected safety level going forward.
Facts about building fires2:
- In most advanced countries, the financial effects of fires equate to one percent of the total GDP, leading to major financial losses.
- Building fires adversely affect air quality and release GHG into the environment, contributing to global warming and climate catastrophes.
- Unburned particles arising from building fires are equal to the total CO2 emissions generated by commercial transport around the world.
- Fires and the products used to extinguish them leave significant amounts of contamination behind in the form of toxins and carcinogens.