Performance-Based Design

Performance-Based Design


Unique, alternative solutions meeting or exceeding the intent of the prescriptive code.


Performance-based design is the process of meeting or exceeding the intent of the code, without sacrificing fire protection or life safety to occupants.  Performance-based design approaches consider the ultimate goal and establish objectives and performance criteria that lead to this goal. Goals could be as simple as ensuring reasonable safe occupant egress during a fire scenario, limiting the damage and operational impact of a fire event, reducing fire-separation distances or fire-resistance rated construction, and other impactful applications. These goals must be agreed upon by the AHJ, owner, design team, end user, insurance company, and all project stakeholders. Once goals and objectives have been established, they are achieved by means and methods which are specific and unique to the building as determined through an engineering analysis. Commonly, a combination of a hazard/risk analysis and computational fire and egress modeling techniques are used as tools in demonstrating compliance.

The performance-based design approach has countless uses; essentially, for each of the prescriptive requirements in the code, a performance-based approach could be evaluated in order to demonstrate compliance with a specific provision.  Performance-based designs are typically completed through computational fire and egress modeling, such as Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) paired with an egress analysis such as Pathfinder, developed and maintained by Thunderhead Engineering.  Although the utilization of performance-based design is endless, the most common applications include the following:

  • Evaluation of Alternative Smoke Control Systems in Atria, Arenas, Theaters, Malls, and other Large Spaces
  • Analyzing Occupant Tenability Throughout a Space During Various Fire Scenarios
  • Justification of Increased Travel Distances and/or Occupant Loads
  • Evaluation of Alternative Fire-Separation Distances, Including Between Buildings or Hazards such as Transformers
  • Justification of Decreases or Omission of Fireproofing or Spay-Applied Fire-Resistive Material (SFRM)
  • Evaluation of Alternative Smoke Detector or Sprinkler Spacing

As discussed, performance-based design further opens up the architect and design team’s imagination as well as capability of a building by demonstrating that the intent of the prescriptive requirements of the code are maintained.  We utilize computational fire and egress modeling tools to perform a thorough analysis of the goal of interest, with a holistic approach ensuring that fire and life safety requirements are maintained.  In most cases, performance-based design approaches result in the following benefits to the design team:

  • Reduced Project Cost & Timing
  • Reduced Impact on Architectural Desires
  • End-Client Satisfaction
  • A Well Understood and Accepted Design by the AHJ

Computational egress modeling is an often utilized tool by fire protection engineers in egress-type analyses, specific to assessing smoke control systems and other applications of performance-based designs.  However, the fire protection community has also identified how to tailor these models to meet the current social requirements of the building operations and architecture fields, through the concern of the global Covid-19 pandemic.  These egress modeling tools can allow us to look at dynamic social distancing conditions, including the following:

  • Capabilities of maintain 6 feet separation
  • How screening and temperature check points effect occupant flows and timing
  • The effectiveness of one-way directional flows
  • Assist in determination maximum expected occupant loading based on comfort level and spacing requirements

It is a trying time currently, especially for large venues such as museums, performing arts centers, arenas, and restaurants to develop a re-opening plan.  Although not explicitly required, a computational egress model can assist you in determining the best approach to open, how many occupants you can safely accommodate, and what the best arrangement of occupant flows in your facility would be.  In addition, while doing this evaluation, we can ensure that key life safety components such as maximum travel distances, dead-end conditions, and common-path of travel do not exceed the code requirements, ensuring a holistic approach to health and life safety.  This thorough approach can allow for some leverage with your jurisdiction, as well as provide a state-of-the-art approach to continuing your operations.

If you are interested in hearing more about this approach or seeing a demonstration of this capability, reach out to us! 

Be sure to check out our blog post about this service as well, located here