Fire-rated wall assemblies and passive fire-stopping systems are key elements to the design of all commercial buildings.
Most importantly, compartmentation limits the distance a fire can spread throughout the building and complements the sprinkler systems. This reduces property damage and affords occupants the needed time to safely evacuate the structure. Otherwise, the passive fire protection systems lie dormant and hidden from public view until a fire spurs them into action.
The most important area of concentration for passive fire protection systems are wall assemblies. All of today’s building codes require these assemblies to be tested by industry standards to evaluate their fire resistance.
Evaluating fire-rated wall assemblies
Passive fire protection strategies require a systematic approach—using an assembly of several different fire-resistant products that work together to impede the passage of flames, smoke, and toxic gases throughout a building. Such is the case with wall assemblies. For example, most exterior and interior commercial wall assemblies feature nonstructural cold-formed steel studs, fiberglass batt insulation, and gypsum wallboard—all materials with naturally high fire resistance. All three materials perform very well together in wall assemblies and are used in various combinations of thickness and numbers of layers to increase fire resistance. Walls (structural or nonstructural), floors, and ceilings can serve as fire barriers as long as they have a fire rating.
Noncombustible wall assemblies must be constructed from fire-resistant materials and include only minor combustible components, such as paint and electrical outlets. All combinations of assemblies are tested to establish hourly fire ratings.
Another important wall assembly demanding fire-resistance performance is the fire partition. Fire partitions are required between adjacent apartments or townhouses, and in some cases, they are required in commercial and institutional buildings. Fire partition walls are typically continuous from an exterior wall to an exterior wall, or from a floor below to a floor or roof above, or from one fire partition to another fire partition, having a fire resistance rating equal to or greater than the required rating for the application. Fire partitions are continuous through concealed spaces (e.g., above a ceiling) to the floor deck or roof deck above the barrier.
The most common applications for fire partitions include shopping malls, dormitories, hotels, and other types of multi-dwelling units. Any openings that are present in a fire partition and fire barrier must be restricted in size, as well as closed with fire-rated glass or fire doors.
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