There are two different ways to protect against fires in buildings, active and passive. Active fire protection includes mechanical systems such as hoses, water sprays, and sprinklers. Passive fire protection stops flames, deadly gases, and toxic smoke from passing through openings, joints, gaps, floors, and ceiling assemblies. Firestops, a passive protection, are crucial to containing the fire in the area it has started and not letting the flames, deadly gases, and smoke spread throughout the building, allowing occupants to exit the building safely. The standard tests ASTM E814 and UL 1479 evaluate how fire and smoke penetrate to the other side.
Let’s talk about these two standards in more detail as part of evaluating how fire ratings work for building materials. Keep in mind that both address fire stopping, which is essentially the study of the passage of smoke, flames, and gases through a building.
What are these types of systems and products?
Looking at the websites of some of the top manufacturers, you see that many of these penetration firestop systems consist of materials like mineral wool, caulk, or putty, or a combination including various types of wraps. These materials are installed in the annular space of penetrating items which impede fire through a fire-resistance-rated surface for a specific amount of time. Some of these firestop systems are duct protection products or specialized products for specific penetrating items. These firestop systems are essential in protecting adjacent areas where penetrating items go through established firewalls.
ASTM E814 addresses those key realities around building construction where firestop systems are necessary to contain the fire from spreading from one area to another around penetrating items. In the absence of mitigating systems and products, a structure will be relatively quick to burn. That means that installing the kinds of materials indicated in these standards is necessary for building installations. So, today’s experts have created firestop materials to bring that compartmentalization and fire resistance to parts of a building where required by code. As part of this process, experts at the test labs may assess any and all penetrants through rated walls, ceilings, and floors and look at how a firestop system maintains fire containment under testing.
In the words of the standard itself:
“The method of testing penetration firestops as specified by these requirements consists of exposure of test samples to a fire of standard time and temperature and to an application of a hose stream. Ratings are then established on the basis of a) The length of time the firestop resists fire before the first development of through-openings or flaming on the unexposed surface; b) Acceptable limitation of thermal transmission; and c) Acceptable performance under the application of the hose stream.”
Maximizing Fire Resistance and Fire Safety
With the above standards in place, builders and others can be confident about the ability of systems to withstand heat and flame or mitigate damage from fire and smoke.
Some central principles also help to guide planners. Along with the standards themselves, there is the principle of redundancy, or the idea that there should be more than one system or installation working together to fight fire. Another critical principle is the containment of fire according to its zone of origin.
ICC NTA is a third-party Testing, Inspection, and Certification agency that utilizes these standards to ensure products meet safety requirements for the construction industry related to penetration firestops for these and other standards in the building industry. We make it our business to work with various parties to help everyone understand best practices in optimizing fire safety in the construction industry.