High expectations for high-performance buildings: fire and life safety

High-performance buildings are intricate, complex projects that require attention—qualified, expert consulting-specifying engineers apply their knowledge on such projects specifically within the fire and life safety segment.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 23, 2017


  • Dave Clute, NREL Energy Executive, BOMI-HP, VP, Intelligent Building Group Operation Director, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
  • Paul Erickson, LEED AP BD+C, Building Performance Practice Leader, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis.
  • Richard Holzer, PE, NCEES, LEED AP BD+C, HBPD, Principal Engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Tim Kuhlman, PE, RCDD, CDT, Associate Principal, TEECOM, Portland, Ore.
  • A. Brian Lomel, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, WELL AP, Director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Orlando, Fla.

CSE: What are some of the challenges for fire and life safety system design for high-performance buildings? How have you overcome these challenges?

Clute: Due to the heightened regulatory and liability scrutiny surrounding fire and life safety systems, it is very common for intelligent building platforms to limit interfaces with such systems to simple contact-closure supervision. Interconnections among subsystems are typically also simple-supervised analog and binary circuits, for the same reasons. For example, it is common for a fire alarm system to provide contact-closure outputs to unlock door locks, recall elevators, supervise fire-suppression devices, and more. Ethernet and serial networks for data communications are rarely used for critical purposes, to keep reliability high.

CSE: Describe unique security and access-control systems you have specified in such facilities.

Clute: The design of security and access-control systems are not inherently different in a high-performance building from those in other types of buildings, other than the degree to which security zones might be designed with multiple levels of security, more card readers, and more video endpoints.

CSE: Do you see any future changes/requests to building design in regard to fire/life safety systems?

Clute: Yes, as more systems are converged onto IP networks, there will be a greater need to segment control and access to these networks, creating even more of a need for greater understanding of cybersecurity design and implementation issues and risks.

CSE: Describe the cost and complexity of fire protection systems involved with high-performance buildings. Have they changed over the years?

Clute: As more devices become IP-compatible, owners and architects are demanding and expecting greater functionality, resulting in increased cost and complexity. All the building trades including fire and life safety must become more knowledgeable in the IT standards and best practices.