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    Passive Fire Protection - What to consider during building renovations

    27th April 2017

    When a building is designed and built from scratch, every element, from acoustic integrity to fire safety should be considered as part of the process. Passive fire protection solutions should be woven seamlessly into the construction as a matter of course and are designed to support and interlink with the building, providing peace of mind within the floors, walls and ceilings.

    But what about retrospectively? As buildings age, cosmetic wear and tear, as well as demands for more space mean that modernisation becomes a priority. If this is done years after the original construction, by a completely different contractor, there can be some guesswork as to the building's original specification. Additionally, rather than a key significance, passive fire protection can end up being an afterthought - a dangerous mistake to make.

    With around 1 home every minute estimated to be refurbished between now and 2050, according to industry experts, there is scope for a vast amount of remedial works being carried out that risk compromising the safety of the building if they are not carried out correctly.

     

    We’ve compiled a list of key areas that should be included when you’re considering the fire protection of your building during renovations.

     

    Holes in walls and ceilings – Don’t compromise your compartmentation

    Whilst a building’s original design may have been certified fire safe, future alterations may change this. Managing the spread of fire is down to effective compartmentation – secure segmentation of areas using passive fire protection and appropriate materials. Creating holes in walls or ceilings during remedial works can compromise the sealed unit, meaning a potential fire can take hold and spread more quickly.

    The importance of compartmentation can be demonstrated in sobering statistics about smoke inhalation, which accounts for three quarters of all fire related deaths. Smoke can travel between 120 to 420 feet per minute under fire conditions. The more opportunity you give fire to spread, the greater the potential devastation.

    This can be overcome by making provisions for appropriate service penetration solutions.

     

    Forgotten spaces – out of sight, out of mind.

    The key to passive fire protection is knowing that it really is the invisible solution. Unlike active fire protection such as fire doors and extinguishers, passive protection lives in the nooks and crannies of the building, helping provide barriers to fire, cutting it off before it can spread.

    The problem with this is that it’s easy to forget the things we can’t see and overlook the required upgrades. Roof fire breaks and cavity barriers are vital fire stopping measures and it’s important to be aware that, just like any part of an aging building, these also need to be replenished when they are no longer fit for purpose. Or indeed, included if they weren’t during the original construction.

     

    Partitions – clear labelling reduces risks

    Recognising the potential issues of retrofit works compromising fire safety, the FIS and ASFP have launched a new fire labelling scheme.

    The initiative aims to help provide quick visual identification of fire performance partitions to future installers, M&E contractors, building owners and facilities managers, highlighting the dangers of cutting service holes through these materials and the ensuing breach to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

    The clearly identifiable labels, which are installed by partitioning contractors on completion of the work, warn retrofit contractors when a partition is a barrier designed to provide protection from fire, helping this performance to be maintained.

     

    Rewiring – Current recommendations

    As older wiring becomes unviable, replacements are to be expected but, since they pass through the building, crossing through walls, floors and ceilings, they offer more opportunities for fire to spread.  This is where a solution such as cable firestop is useful. Effectively sealing bunches of cables, it allows the wires to pass through fire rated walls and doors with up to 4 hours fire protection.

    Additionally, with more and more buildings modernising to include new internet and telecommunications systems, solutions need to be considered to protect the cables and the areas they pass through. Intumescent conduit, which surrounds and protects the cables as they pass through walls and floors, provides a robust solution offing up to 4 hours fire protection.

     

    Adding new sockets – Watt’s the safest way?

    As part of rewiring, the upgrade of switches and sockets is inevitable (bye bye, Bakelite!). Under fire conditions, the socket box is a weak point through which fire can easily spread. Using a simple solution such as Intumescent putty pads provides a barrier to halt the spread of fire through plasterboard walls.

     

    Renovations are a brilliant opportunity to refresh and upgrade many aesthetic elements of a building, but it’s always important to keep in mind that the fire protection of the structure is the most essential consideration.

     

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