Statistical Approach to Study the Fire Performance of Building Facades: Towards Optimum Design

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Mechanical Engineering

Abstract

This project aims to identify what design factors affect fire hazard in building facades, and to quantify these effects if possible. The initial step was to search the current literature on fires in facades and facade design to identify which factors could have an effect on fire hazard. We then searched for as many sources of facade fire data as possible. We looked at previous experiments in the literature, industrial safety tests, and real facade fires. We then designed a database that could compare the essential elements of as much of this data as possible, and that could be easily extended to more data in the future. These steps have all been completed. We are now using statistical techniques to try and identify which design factors have the largest impact on the fire safety of facades. We then hope to be able to combine this statistical analysis with the current physical knowledge of facade fires to create a predictive model that could quantify the relative fire safety of different facades. If we are successful, this could then be used to help optimise fire safety alongside other important aspects of facade design - such as insulating ability or weight.

This work represents the first time such a large amount of facade fire data has been collated, and one of the first examples of any fire test database in the fire safety literature. This project is also novel in considering fire safety in facade optimisation, as previous efforts have mainly focused on cost versus environmental sustainability (e.g. CO2 emissions). Facade fires are a growing problem, and have cost many lives across the globe. We hope that this project takes some significant steps in reducing the number of the fires that could occur in the future.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509206/1 01/10/2015 30/03/2021
1783520 Studentship EP/N509206/1 14/09/2016 31/12/2020 Matthew Bonner
 
Title Pillars of Safety, Imperial College Mechanical Engineering Departmental Photo Competition 
Description Entered a photo of three skyscrapers in London, including the Scalpel, a building designed using the Improved Travelling Fire Methodology - a method developed by Imperial Hazelab. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Used within the department and on the website to help promote their research impact. 
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mechanical-engineering/about-us/photo-competition/2019-competition-result...
 
Description For a facade to be approved for use on a building, often it must pass some kind of commercial fire safety test. The results of these tests are often stored away and forgotten about, with only a single pass or fail for a particular facade being published. For the first time we have gathered a large amount of commercial facade fire test data, and used this to gain an insight into what factors drive a facade's behaviour in fire. This kind of approach is unique in fire safety, as it is very hard to get hold of this kind of commercial data.

We tested four hypotheses: that the presence of a ventilated cavity in the facade had a significant impact on facade fire behaviour; that the amount of combustible material in the facade had a significant impact on fire behaviour; that the insulating ability of the facade had a significant impact on fire behaviour; and that the results of these tests were repeatable. We found that the presence of a cavity in a facade (often included to help manage moisture build up) had a significant negative effect on fire behaviour, and that some amount of combustible material on the facade was required for it to perform badly in the tests, but that the total amount of fuel only explained 10% of the variation in performance. We found that the insulating ability of the facade was insignificant in predicting performance in the tests, and that the temperature measurements between repeat tests could vary widely, but that the flame spread behaviour was relatively consistent.
Exploitation Route Arup's fire safety engineers have asked me to talk a number of times during my PhD, and want to use any knowledge that comes out of it to improve their abilities to design safe buildings. I hope by showing the advantages of using this kind of commercial test data, companies may start to open up this data to research more willingly, or at least start to use it internally to improve our understanding of facade fire performance. The Polish company I have been collaborating with (Instytut Techniki Budowlanej) are already impressed with the work I've done, and have started including in some of their contracts that any data collected can be used for public scientific research.
Sectors Construction

 
Description The Arup fire safety team have asked me to talk a number of times during my PhD, so that they can apply anything I am finding as quickly as possible to any building facades they are consulting on. In talks to the Institute of Fire Engineers at the London Fire Brigade, and to policy makers at Imperial College, people seem very interested in my work and are asking a lot of questions. I cannot be sure of the direct impact, but it seems that fire safety professionals are noticing my research and trying to apply it to their own work.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Construction
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Collaboration with Instytut Techniki Budowlanej (ITB) in Warsaw 
Organisation Building Research Institute, Warsaw
Country Poland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Designed a series of intermediate scale facade experiments to run in their fire lab. Analysed the results of these experiments. Also digitised and analysed a collection of anonymised data from commercial facade fire tests run by the company. We then wrote up the results of these experiments and analyses into research papers with members of ITB as co-authors.
Collaborator Contribution Helped us to run the series of intermediate scale facade fire experiments that we had designed. Helped us with discussions of practicalities in our experiments. Provided anonymised data from a number of their commercial facade fire tests that they run.
Impact We have published one paper in Building and Environment: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2019.106540 We are currently working on another paper from the intermediate scale experiments. The research was funded by a grant that ITB applied for over 700,000 PLN, which was won partially due to the partnership with Imperial College and Arup. This money will continue to be used after this PhD has finished to help with research related to the CASE awards of two other research students in my group
Start Year 2018
 
Description CPD Seminar at Instytut Techniki Budolwanej 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented my research to students, engineers, and technicians at Instytut Techniki Budolwanej (ITB) a testing and research institute in Warsaw, Poland. Much of my research has been in collaboration with this company, and they asked me to share my results with other engineers who might be able to learn from my work. The audience seemed happy with my talk, particularly their head of research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description CPD Seminars at Arup London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave multiple CPD seminars on different aspects of my research to Fire Engineers at Arup London. The presentations were broadcast to other Arup offices around the country. People seemed interested in my research, and it gave an opportunity to share my research directly with the engineers who may be able to use it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Fire Science Booth at Diverse@Imperial Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Helped to organise and run a stand at the Diversity at Imperial College Week, a week of talks and demonstrations across the Imperial College Campus aimed at teenage students from disadvantaged schools around London. The stand showed research from across the Imperial Hazelab research group (the group of Prof Guillermo Rein). In particular I demonstrated an introduction to fire dynamics through the burning of a candle. We succeeded in demonstrating fire science to a wide audience, as well as answering questions on scientific careers and the impact of our research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/equality/activities/diverse-at-imperial/
 
Description Fire Science Booth at Imperial Festival / Great Exhibition Road Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact For the last 3 years I have helped to organise and run a stand at "Imperial Festival", an event run by Imperial College London presenting its research to the general public. The stand showed research from across the Imperial Hazelab research group (the group of Prof Guillermo Rein). Some of the topics shown were the influence of embers on the spread of the Great Fire of London, how smouldering fire in coal may have affected the Titanic disaster, and a demonstration of a "fire tornado". We succeeded in demonstrating fire science to a wide audience, as well as answering questions on scientific careers and the impact of our research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival/
 
Description Fire Science Booth at New Scientist: Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Helped organise and run a stand for the Imperial Hazelab research group (the group of Prof Guillermo Rein) at New Scientist: Live. We presented a range of our groups research with the aim of inspiring a general audience and introducing them to the field of fire safety science. Some of the topics shown were the influence of embers on the spread of the Great Fire of London, how smouldering fire in coal may have affected the Titanic disaster, and a demonstration of a "fire tornado". After positive feedback on our stand in 2018, we returned in 2019 as part of a larger stand for the Imperial College Mechanical Engineering Department as a whole. We succeeded in demonstrating fire science to a wide audience, as well as answering questions on scientific careers and the impact of our research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://live.newscientist.com/
 
Description Imperial College Mechanical Engineering Department Research Showcase March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Imperial College Mechanical Engineering Department runs a yearly event to showcase its research. I presented a poster at the event "Ensuring Fire Safety in Building Facades" with my colleagues. Over 100 people attended. The event was catered towards all audiences and included 3 lectures followed by a poster presentation session. I received several questions from the participants and was able to broadcast the research being done through EPSRC funding within our group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/engineering/mechanicalengineering/even...
 
Description Presentation at London Fire Brigade January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented my research to fire engineers as part of an Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) professional development workshop at the London Fire Brigade. The workshop was attended by around 90 people, and I presented alongside 3 other members of my research group. People were interested in the work I was doing and I got a lot of questions at the end, as well as some people coming up afterwards and asking for slides and offering to try and help with my work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presented at Imperial Policy Forum Workshop on City Fires 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Imperial Forum organises workshops to present current research on topics where clarity is being sought by members of government and industry. In this case, I was presenting my research on facade fires, and what we can do to reduce their impact in the future. The audience included members of RBKC council and the Department for Communities and Local Government as well as people from different parts of the fire safety industry. After the presentation, there was also an open discussion on the issue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/the-forum