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Commercial Building Fire Protection

Commercial buildings are over-engineered for fire protection, leading to billions of dollars in waste with little benefit to occupant safety. NIST leads research about how fires burn in buildings and develops tools so architects can confidently identify ways to cut costs without undermining safety.

Computer model of fire at The Station nightclub
Credit: NIST
Computer model of fire at The Station nightclub showing the temperature variation after 90 seconds at 0.6 meter (2 feet) above the floor.

NIST develops computational tools to predict fire spread and growth in commercial buildings. Tools developed by NIST help building designers to develop lower-cost approaches to complying with existing fire performance standards. The modeling expertise required to develop these tools leverages decades of work in studies of real-world disasters, partnerships with first responders, and experimental burns that cultivated unique-in-the-world fire expertise.

Using NIST computational tools, architects and engineers virtually construct the building (including locations and sizes of rooms, sprinklers and stairways) according to existing building codes and standards. The users then simulate defined fire scenarios and record how smoke, fire gases and temperature change throughout the building. The model also simulates building evacuation—how people move throughout the building as the fire grows.

With this baseline, the architects repeat these fire scenarios, making changes to the building construction design to lower cost and/or add interesting architectural features while maintaining or improving fire performance.

Questions? Contact NIST Inquiries.