Communities across the United States continue to adopt programs for sustainable development. Durable construction can be an important component of such programs. The durability and fire resistance of non-combustible concrete and masonry construction are qualities that can help communities satisfy their desire to become more sustainable.

How sustainable are structures constructed of materials that will not adequately resist fire spread and may even contribute to a fire? Unlike some other construction alternatives, durable, non-combustible concrete and masonry construction does not fuel a fire.

But beyond the issue of whether or not construction materials will burn is the larger issue of fire containment. Non-combustible concrete and masonry construction can provide fire containment by compartmentalizing multi-family structures so that each living unit is protected from the spread of fire through adjoining walls and floors.

Providing adequate fire containment with minimum two-hour fire-resistant concrete or masonry walls between living units and between living units and public spaces will typically contain fires to the unit of origin. This reduced fire spread not only limits the amount of post-fire repair and reconstruction, but also limits the amount of pollution resulting from burning contents within the building.

Following disasters, fires may burn out of control due to reduced resources or access and/or loss of water supply. Concrete and masonry construction can limit the size and spread and of such fires.

Following the devastation from wind and water and related environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina, uncontrolled fires destroyed remaining structures adding to the pollution problems.

Such uncontrollable fires can lead to fire storms spreading to multiple buildings and even blocks of buildings. Water supply, available resources and access may be limited due to wildland fires; hurricanes, tornadoes or other high wind events; ice or snow storms; and earthquakes. See more on Resilience.

Uncontrolled fires after Hurricane Katrina.
Conflagration after Hurricane Katrina. 


Non-combustible concrete and masonry construction provides many other benefits to communities seeking to promote sustainable development, such as:

  • thermal mass benefits for reduced heating and cooling needs
  • durability for reduced building replacement and increased building reuse
  • low maintenance and reduced need for routine painting or frequent cleaning in order to retain a desirable appearance
  • sound transmission resistance, creating more comfortable living and more productive work environments

When it comes to building construction for sustainable development, there is no comparison to non-combustible concrete and masonry construction. For more information about combining smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, and passive fire protection visit the Pennsylvania Fire Safety Construction Advisory Council.