Properly installing and maintaining fire stopping is crucial for a building’s integrity and its occupants’ safety. Fire stopping prevents fire from spreading through different parts of the building. If fire stops are not installed correctly, smoke and flames can quickly move around the building, causing damage to property and assets, and putting people’s lives in danger. In addition, fire stopping assists emergency services in containing the fire for periods of time – allowing them to reach the destination and extinguish the blaze.
It’s important to frequently check and evaluate the effectiveness of fire stopping measures after their installation. Failing to do so can result in non-compliance with fire safety regulations and you may be responsible in the case of a fire.
Since the Grenfell incident, there have been significant modifications to fire protection rules, and it’s crucial for industry experts such as project managers and site teams to refresh their knowledge of these updates. By doing so, they can ensure compliance is prioritised when working on passive fire protection initiatives.
The regulations vary depending on the size and intended usage of a building, among other factors. Here, we’ll explore how firestopping relates to the relevant fire protection legislation in the UK.
Approved Document B applies to both residential and non-residential buildings. These regulations also apply to both new constructions and renovations of existing structures. They require fire prevention measures to be in place to stop the spread of fire, as deemed necessary. The scope of these measures is dependent on the intended use and size of the building.
Starting from October 2024, the Building Fire Safety Act will be fully enforced. This Act will apply to most buildings and structures, with the exception of private homes. Landlords and developers will be held financially responsible for any non-compliance issues. For buildings exceeding 7 storeys, a fire safety manager will need to be appointed to maintain fire stopping solutions. Also, building inspectors and control approvers will need to register, to ensure compliance with the Building Safety Regulator.
The Fire Safety Act was introduced in March 2020 to address gaps in the 2005 Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. It aims to ensure fire safety in all residential buildings, not just high-rises, by requiring fire stopping measures and addressing non-compliance issues with external walls and common area doors. The responsible person is legally obliged to commission a fire risk assessment under this act.
These regulations dictate how electrical systems should be installed and perform in relation to fire safety. This ensures that wiring systems remain intact during a fire. Appendix 13 also provides guidance on maintaining clear escape routes, which should be used in conjunction with fire safety measures to allow for safe evacuation of a building.
Now that we’ve covered the relevant regulations, we can explore the materials involved in fire stopping. There are a whole range of materials used in the creation of fire stopping systems including Cement mortar, Gypsum-based plaster, Cement-based or gypsum-based vermiculite/perlite mixes, Glass fibre, crushed rock, blast furnace slag, Proprietary fire-stopping and sealing systems.
To ensure fire resistance is maintained, it’s important to fire-stop joints in fire-separating elements such as walls and floors. Any openings for pipes, cables, or other items that pass through fire-separating elements should be limited in number, kept small, and also fire-stopped.
Fire-stopping materials must be reinforced with or supported by materials of limited combustibility if the span exceeds 100mm or if non-rigid materials are used (unless they passed satisfactory tests).
Multiple fire stopping measures are required to make up the whole fire stopping system, depending on the purpose of the building:
Intumescent coatings are a reliable way to safeguard structures from potential harm. Sometimes known as reactive paint, they respond to temperatures higher than 120°C caused by a fire. In such instances, the paint swells up to 50 times its original thickness, creating a carbon layer that acts as thermal insulation for the steel for a limited duration. Depending on the coating, this period is usually in the range of 30 to 120 minutes. This allows people to be safely evacuated from the building and protects the structure of a building before firefighters can extinguish the fire.
Fire doors are an integral part of any fire safety system. They’re designed to protect the occupants from fire and smoke, as well as providing a safe escape route from the building. Fire doors must be made from materials such as steel or timber, and should be fitted with intumescent seals to prevent heat transfer through any gaps. The door should also have a self-closing device to ensure efficacy.
Fire rated partitions are used to separate buildings into fire compartments, containing the spread of fire. This can be achieved using fire resistant materials, where walls and ceilings are constructed. The walls must then be sealed with an intumescent sealant or gasketed system to ensure they remain airtight in case of a fire. Fire partitions must have a resistance-rating of no less than 30 minutes to offer sufficient protection.
Fire Barrier systems located externally can play an important role in stopping fires and smoke from spreading within hard-to-reach areas like roof and ceiling spaces or other concealed areas of a building. These kinds of systems can be used for voids up to 10.5 metres. Vertical barrier systems can last for both insulation and integrity periods up to 120 minutes, and friction fire barrier slabs can allow for up to 60 minutes of protection.
Proper installation and regular maintenance of firestopping systems are essential to maintain their effectiveness and comply with fire safety regulations. Let’s delve into the key aspects of fire stopping installation and maintenance.
Fire stopping installation should always be carried out by trained and certified professionals with expertise in fire protection systems. Professionals possess the knowledge and experience to correctly identify the specific firestop requirements for different types of penetrations, such as electrical conduit, pipes, ductwork, and cables. They can select the appropriate firestop materials and install them in accordance with applicable fire codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
Improper installation can compromise the effectiveness of firestop systems. Some common mistakes to avoid include:
Regular inspection and maintenance of firestop systems are essential to identify and address any issues or damage. Here are some key inspection and maintenance requirements:
In the event of damage to firestop systems, immediate action is necessary to restore their effectiveness. Depending on the extent of the damage, replacement or repair may be required. Damaged firestopping materials should be removed, and new materials should be installed by professionals in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines. Regular inspections can help identify and address any damage or deterioration promptly.
Fire stopping presents unique challenges, particularly when dealing with complex building designs and retrofitting existing buildings. Let’s explore these challenges in more detail:
Modern buildings are often characterised by complex architectural designs, intricate building systems, and diverse materials. These complexities can make fire stopping more challenging. Here are some specific challenges:
a. Penetration variations: Complex building designs often involve a wide range of penetration types, such as irregular shapes, large openings, or multiple penetrations close to each other. These variations require customised firestop solutions to ensure proper sealing and maintain fire compartmentation.
b. Limited access: In some cases, firestop installations may be located in hard-to-reach areas, such as narrow crawl spaces, elevated ceilings, or concealed wall cavities. Limited access can make it difficult for installers to reach and properly seal penetrations, increasing the risk of improper installation and compromised fire resistance.
c. Compatibility issues: Complex buildings may incorporate a combination of different construction materials and systems. Ensuring compatibility between firestopping materials and these various elements can be challenging. Compatibility issues can arise with respect to expansion and contraction rates, adhesion properties, or chemical reactions between materials, potentially leading to reduced effectiveness or premature failure of firestop systems.
Retrofitting firestop systems in existing buildings poses its own set of challenges. Older buildings were often constructed without the same fire protection standards in mind, and implementing fire stopping measures afterward can be complex. Here are some specific challenges:
a. Structural modifications: Retrofitting firestop systems requires careful consideration of existing structural elements. Penetrations may already exist and be difficult to access, requiring creative solutions to effectively seal them without compromising the building’s structural integrity.
b. Concealed conditions: In retrofit projects, firestop installations often need to be performed in concealed conditions, such as behind finished walls or ceilings. Working in these concealed spaces poses challenges for installers, as they must ensure proper sealing without damaging existing finishes or disrupting building operations.
c. Building system integration: Retrofitting firestop systems necessitates integration with existing building systems, including electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and data cabling. Coordinating with these systems and ensuring proper firestopping around penetrations and junctions can be complex, requiring collaboration between fire protection specialists and various trades.
Overcoming these challenges requires a comprehensive understanding of firestopping principles, building codes, and industry best practices. It is crucial to engage experienced fire protection professionals who possess the knowledge and expertise to navigate complex building designs and effectively retrofit firestop systems in existing structures. By addressing these challenges, buildings can be made safer, protecting occupants and minimising the potential for fire spread.
As you can see from the above information, fire stopping is an essential component of fire protection in buildings. While it can be a challenge to install firestop systems around complex designs and retrofit existing structures, engaging experienced professionals with the right knowledge and expertise can ensure that these challenges are addressed in order to protect occupants and minimise the potential for fire spread.
For expert and reliable fire stopping installation and maintenance services, consider us at Ark Fire Protection. We have the knowledge and experience to manage fire protection projects of any size and complexity, ensuring code compliance and maximum safety for your building. Contact us today to discuss your fire stopping needs. We look forward to helping you protect your building occupants, property, and assets from the risk of fire.
Sources Used to Construct this Guide