With fire safety in the news thanks to the continuing saga of the Grenfell Tower enquiry, we look at how fire precautions can be incorporated into new buildings
Most modern homes will have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed – in case of fire or CO leakage they can be life-savers. But it’s equally important that care is taken in any building job to specify materials which will impede the spread of fire should it break out.
This is particularly important in the case of steel constructions, where the load-bearing qualities of steel can be severely compromised by heat.
There are several forms of fire-stopping building materials available, including paints, boards and sprays.
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Around 70 percent of steel constructions now use intumescent paints, 25 percent use fire stopping board cladding and three percent use sprays.
There are also systems such as fire resistant sheets, filling of columns with bricks made of foamed concrete, and the pouring of beams halfway into the concrete ceiling, though the use of these methods is decreasing.
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Intumescent paints are relatively inexpensive and can be applied in the workshop or on site. In a fire, the paint swells, insulating the steel from heat. intumescent paints come in various types including thin water-based and thick epoxy-based. Sandblasting and priming is required before painting.
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An intumescent is a substance that swells as a result of heat exposure, leading to an increase in volume and decrease in density. Intumescents are typically used in passive fire protection, and require listing, approval and compliance in their installed configurations in order to comply with national building codes and laws.
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Fire stopping boards, usually made of calcium silicate with fillers, are available in thicknesses from 10mm to 60mm, and are installed on site. They are regarded as the most reliable fire protection for steel structures.
An alternative in some types of structure is a fire-stopping membrane, or a fire-retardant spray consisting of cement fibres, vermiculite and plaster.
The same fire-stopping principles can be applied to all sorts of construction items; for instance there are special paints for wood, lath-and-plaster ceilings, PVC, fibreglass and aluminium; gap-filling blocks and expanding pillows to fit around service points; rockwool slabs with intumescent coating design for non-load bearing walls, and special wraps, collars and pipes for electrical and other outlets, not to mention sealing kits for letter-boxes and doorways, fire-resistant mastics and putties for gap filling, and even fire-resistant ducting for ventilators and toilets.
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Make sure you are up to date with the fire regulations in the Part B Fire Safety Documents at www.planningportal.co.uk. ■
This feature was originally published in Property & Home with Martin Roberts, Winter 2020 issue – read more here.