This informal CPD article, ‘Don’t Demolish: Building a Case for Resilience', was provided by Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), established in 2010 as an alliance of fire safety professionals working to protect UK plc against fire.
Don’t Demolish: Building a Case for Resilience
Buildings account for 38% of total energy-related global CO2 emissions which is why the decarbonisation of construction must be accelerated if we are to achieve our sustainability goals. Now is the time to shift our attitudes when it comes to building and adapt and reuse what we already have. This circular approach is very much the sentiment of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) as they call for developers to refurbish and re-use existing buildings and say no to demolition.
When you consider RIBA’s approach to fighting climate change by not throwing good buildings away it makes perfect sense. It also leads one to consider the value of existing properties. A halt on demolition is very much behind the same path the BSA is advocating and why we should be taking a holistic approach that addresses sustainability which would also consider fire resilience. It brings us back to the question of when an unprotected building is destroyed by fire and needs to be demolished, what does this mean for emissions, conservation and recycling of building materials?
In the UK alone, 50,000 buildings are demolished every year producing 126 million tonnes of waste, which represents two-thirds of the UK’s total waste. Replacing these buildings with new and more energy efficient ones is not the most sustainable approach, especially when you consider that 35% of the lifecycle carbon of a typical office building is emitted before a building is in-use and the figure is 51% for a residential building. In other words, it will take decades before a new building pays back its carbon debt by saving more emissions than it created.
If we were to compare this to when a building is heavily damaged or even destroyed by fire, the materials involved are unlikely to be recycled due to contamination and will need to be crushed down and disposed of in another way. Replacement and extensive repairs incur further carbon emission impact. If we need to retain as much as possible of the built environment that we have created, what does that mean for the outcomes we want for some of these buildings? Is it simply compliance with regulations?
Increasing the lifespan of buildings must become the norm and so losing buildings needlessly to fire will not make sense. Some may argue that a newly renovated or adapted building is saving carbon emissions as it’s not being demolished but at the same time, fire safety challenges come to the fore. When an existing building is adapted, reused or repurposed, it’s critical to think about what that means in terms of new fire safety objectives. This ‘new’ building will shift some of our value parameters and therefore the resilience of a building should become an objective.
Key to a building’s sustained value will be protecting its reusability. Losing the materials and the building usability in a fire will see it taken out of the building’s lifecycle – the result will be a valuable resource taken to rebuild them. Fire strategies must therefore adapt and the role of flexible automatic fire protection is a huge part of this. By considering and incorporating automatic sprinklers at the earliest stages of the design process, stakeholders can add value to any project and protect their investment from the wrecking ball.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.