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Firestopping

photo courtesy Copper Range, Inc.

A significant change relating to firestopping was made in the 2012 International Building Code (IBC). Since many states and municipalities have or are in the process of adopting this version of the IBC, designers, contractors and inspection agencies need to be aware of these changes.

Firestopping is the proper use and installation of tested and rated systems designed to limit the movement of flame, heat, smoke and/or toxic gases within a building during a fire. Similar to fire walls, smoke barriers, and other rated assemblies, firestopping contributes to containment. Defective or missing firestopping can result in injury to occupants and firefighters and can allow property damage to extend beyond the intended containment area. Firestopping is a key component of passive fire protection systems. Since firestopping is part of a critical life safety system, it is important that the individuals inspecting these systems be qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable in firestopping code requirements.

In the past, most installation inspections were completed by municipal building inspectors. The 2012 IBC now requires that proper installation be confirmed by an approved, independent Special Inspection agency. The agency must provide interim and final reports to building officials, project designers, and general contractors. Special Inspections are now required for firestopping installation in all high-rise buildings and all Risk Category III and IV buildings, (such as most schools, emergency services facilities, hospitals, and public assembly buildings) with an occupant load greater than 300.

There are a variety of firestopping systems available. Pipe penetrations can be metallic or plastic (such as PVC), each of which react much differently in a fire event. Cable (data or power) penetrations require firestopping systems that will accommodate future changes in the number or size of cable conduits. Joints must accommodate normal building movement (e.g. settlement, expansion and contraction) while still retaining their fire-resistive ratings. Perimeter systems often need to be customized for the architectural characteristics of a curtain wall.

Firestopping components can consist of compressed packing material such as mineral wool with elastomeric fire-resistive sealants, while others use expanding, heat-activated tapes or putties, often in conjunction with manufactured collars or other appliances. Firestopping systems are typically a combination of proprietary products and accessories that have been developed to meet various requirements. They must be carefully installed to provide the fire protection required.

To receive a rating, a system is rigorously tested in actual fire situations by specialized testing laboratories, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., Intertek, or FM Global. Each approved system can be assigned up to three primary ratings:

F Rating:               The time that the system remains intact and does not permit the spread of fire.

L Rating:              The amount of air or smoke leakage through a joint or penetration.

T Rating:              The amount of time the system prevents the temperature on the non-fire side from rising 325° F above ambient air temperature.

Based on the IBC or other requirements, the architect or fire protection engineer can specify the minimum levels of applicable ratings or proprietary systems that meet the project’s needs.

The goal is to install the selected systems in a manner that duplicates the performance achieved during laboratory testing. The inspection and reporting process is well delineated by the IBC and two supporting documents published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Projects that anticipate occupancy changes or that may require frequent modifications should have detailed drawings showing the type and location of every firestopping system. This provides future occupants and maintenance personnel with critical information regarding the systems that need to remain in place. Labels on individual firestopping installations can also serve this purpose.

The proper installation of firestopping systems is a critical phase of construction. The goal of saving lives and mitigating property damage requires that designers, installers, and inspectors be diligent in their work. For more information about the new firestopping Special Inspection requirements, consult the IBC or contact your local ECS office.

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