Fire barriers play an important role in buildings — but it’s not just their job to stop flames. Fire barriers also compartmentalize the smoke and noxious chemicals that fires carry with them and in our opinion, they should accomplish this critical job all while blending in with the aesthetics of a building. If fact, when properly incorporated into the architectural design of a space, occupants shouldn’t notice fire barriers at all.
When it comes to the nitty gritty of fire protection, fire barriers must be compared, selected, and installed properly to prevent fire and smoke from penetrating an expansion joint opening for a specified amount of time, called the rating period. These rating periods are tested and defined by Underwriter Laboratories (UL), a global safety science leader.
If you’re in the midst of planning a construction project, getting the fire barriers right is critical for safety. Here are seven critical factors your team should consider to make sure you choose and utilize your fire barrier correctly.
1. A Fire Rating is Only as Good as the Rated Construction Around the Barrier.
A solid substrate with no gaps, irregularities, or other breaks in total surface contact is essential for securing the fire barrier in place. In addition, the selected substrate must also be a UL-rated construction type.
A dangerous installation error occurs when fire barriers are attached to non-UL-rated substrates. When you are creating your fire barrier plans, specify a partition with the appropriate UL rating. Remember that metal is not a UL-rated substrate, and can create a thermal bridge that permits fires to move between partitions.
2. Don’t Forget the Fire Barrier is a Continuation of the Rated Construction
The UL rating of your fire barrier must correspond with the rating of your construction project, even in areas where fires may not originate. This ensures that fires cannot enter any areas to jump floors or rooms. Make sure to inspect the test document or request test data for review when you are writing specifications to ensure that the fire barrier product you plan to use will meet the construction project demands.
A simple way to ensure compliance and safety on the job site? Label your fire barrier!
Permanently labeling the UL rating on the walls will help contractors, vendors, and staff easily identify the fire barrier and know which UL system is required for any future projects. Labelling your barriers prevents unnecessary or detrimental wall penetrations and can ensure compliance with UL-rated systems.
3. Consider the Fire Barrier as a Complete System: Frames, Splices, Transitions (Oh My!)
All parts of your fire barrier system must precisely connect to each other. Like a puzzle.
Careful engineering and installation of a fire barrier system will avoid gaps and air leaks, which can cause a chimney effect that allows smoke and dangerous fumes to spread.
Consider the fire barrier as a complete system: Seams, frames, splices, multi-layered systems and transitions (like changes in direction) are good places to check for vulnerabilities. If you do uncover issues, don’t rely on quick fixes that may not stand up to the conditions over time. A tested, UL-rated transition is designed to move with the structure, which is essential in seismic regions that may require 50% movement of the joints. A little sway is a-okay, if the fire barrier is sized and installed correctly.
4. Expansion Joint Covers (or Lack Thereof) Must Be Part of Fire Barrier Testing
Expansion joints safely hold your building together while allowing for temperature, vibration, or seismic movement. They contain slab and wall openings that can allow fire and smoke to pass through if unprotected. An expansion joint that runs through your entire building will most likely penetrate a fire barrier, but these masters of movement can be paired with a cover to meet fire protection requirements.
To prevent the spread of fire, expansion joint covers that match the UL rating of any barrier they penetrate are a required part of a complete system.
Account for the dimensions of these joint covers in your planning, and select expansion joint covers from manufacturers who can show that the entire expansion joint has been tested by the third-party certifying or testing organization.
5. “Flexing” to Meet the Demand of Your Project Is Important
Even after you have selected a tested and UL-rated complete fire barrier system, sometimes the construction process throws you an unexpected curve ball. These challenges often come in the form of penetrations (such as holes for cables and pipes) and joints, some of which require the ability to accommodate movement.
Hit a home run by selecting a system that is tested under the conditions that you have encountered, and that has been proven successful at stopping smoke and fire. Non-tested conditions should not be planned for or installed: your occupants may be at risk, and your fire rating may be voided.
6. Always Inspect Test Documents or Request Test Data
There are numerous tested, rated fire barrier systems, and these proven products should always be chosen over custom solutions developed using engineering analysis.
If it’s been tested, it can be trusted.
Using a fire barrier system that has been tested and UL-rated provides assurance that it will perform and protect in critical situations.
Tested systems meet specific ranges of conditions, and can be aligned with your project’s needs. Architects should request the testing data and results they need to choose the right fire barrier system for a project.
7. Provide Specific Details for Rated Conditions and Requirements
The contractor is going to build the project based on the details provided, so be sure that your details are specific and accurate; avoid generic statements, like “Fire barrier as or where required.”
This is particularly important when certain areas require higher ratings than other parts of the project. Missing these requirements due to an assumption that all parts of the project need the same rating can result in a harmful failure.
Never assume! When it comes to fire barriers, be specific to be safe!
Tight specification language can save lives. Architects must provide separate details for rated conditions, and should always avoid using canned or boilerplate details that were not developed with rated fire barriers specifically in mind. In addition, Architects may consult fire protection engineers to assist with selection and language specifications as needed.
- Expansion joint fire barriers are just as important as sprinklers and extinguishers, even more so as they help to compartmentalize fire and smoke.
- As we have shown, errors and mistakes can creep into the design and construction processes leaving joint systems with little or no fire-barrier protection.
- Attention to detail when designing, specifying, manufacturing and installing fire-rated expansion joints is important for every project. We hope this list helps you as you develop your next project plan!
Published by Inpro®