Every time a major fire makes headline news, the construction industry is reminded of the responsibility it has to ensure that our buildings are as fire-resistant as possible. Given that this can literally be a life or death issue, every component of a passive fire protection system has to be given serious consideration. While this usually leads to much attention being focussed on system components such as fire protection boards and penetration sealants, other less obvious components such as fire-resistant glazing also have a critical role to play.
The term fire-resistant glazing is usually used to refer to any type of glass designed to withstand standard fire tests, and which will prevent smoke, hot gases and flames passing from one side to the other. While normal float glass has limitations in relation to fire performance, fire-resistant glass is usually required to resist temperatures well above 850°C. If it can do that, then the glass in question is given a fire rating which indicates how long it can be expected to withstand a fire, whether that is 60 minutes, 120 minutes etc. A fire-rated glass can be wired, tempered or have one of the more modern laminated constructions, with each type being suited to specific types of application.
The modern trend
The use of fire-rated glazing to create a fire-protected internal partition often prompts a vision of fire glass surrounded by heavy timber or metal framing systems, with the frames forming an integral and essential part of the overall fire glazed system. However, developments in fire glazing systems now allow for a butt-jointed glazing system to be used instead, and these have been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years, as they allow increased light and a sense of greater space which is better suited to bringing today’s modern building designs to life. Using a butt-jointed system to create protective walls from nothing more than glass might seem counter-intuitive but, when specified and constructed properly, they can provide great protection against the transfer of heat and fire in a building.
The key words here, of course, are when specified and constructed properly. It’s clear that selecting the most appropriate fire glass solution for any particular project requires very careful consideration, so where does the specifier start?
Choosing an experienced and proven fire glazing supplier is arguably the most critical single decision that the specifier will make in this process. Only this type of manufacturer will be able to provide exactly the type of technical guidance that is needed at the product selection stage. In fact, it is wise to invite the glass supplier to become involved even earlier in the process, often at the point when the overall glazing system is first being designed. The manufacturer’s expertise and industry knowledge can help avoid problems which might otherwise only become apparent later on.
Playing by the rules
Choosing the right manufacturer will also pay dividends when it comes to navigating the mass of rules and regulations which surround fire protection issues. They will be up-to-date with the current requirements, and can
help ensure your proposed system is not only fit for purpose, but that it also complies with all the necessary
regulations. The glazing supplier’s attitude to customer service is, perhaps surprisingly, another important area.
Flexibility on their part can go a long way to easing the process for everyone else involved from providing initial design advice to the architect, through to helping the contractor by scheduling material deliveries to site so that they coincide with the wider construction programme. Their input can also have advantages at the end of the process, as they will be able to make contributions which can help avoid any problems that might otherwise occur during installation. It also goes without saying that products which have been thoroughly proven in real-world applications are absolutely essential.
There is seldom any shortage of new glazing products and systems being launched on the market, but you must make sure the ones you choose really are up to the job. Naturally you must carefully check that a product has all the necessary certifications and approvals, but choosing something that also has a proven track record will provide valuable extra reassurance. Product performance simply cannot be compromised when it comes to protecting against fire.
Getting it together
Once you’ve narrowed the field down to the reputable types of fire glazing products available, all of which might be suitable for your particular project, there are still important decisions to be made. To begin with, it makes good sense to choose a manufacturer that can offer as many of those different solutions as possible from its own range. If, for example, you choose a butt-jointed glazing system, it would make sense to use a glass fire door with minimal framework rather than a typical timber fire door. Selecting a manufacturer that can offer a wide product range will ease the task of sourcing all the different fire-rated glazing components you need, and also increase your chances of arriving at the optimum solution for your project.
The same benefits will apply on a wider basis if the manufacturer you choose can also provide all the other passive fire protection products you need. The glass is usually just part of a wider system which can involve dozens of other products such as fire protection boards, fire protection coatings or penetration seals. Sourcing them all from one manufacturer will create an overall system where the glass and all other components are fully compatible and can be relied on to provide the type of fire protection you need.
In summary, it would be fair to say that today’s fire resistant glazing products and systems provide far more design freedom, and far more effective fire protection, than has ever been available before, and we should exploit these modern advantages to the full. But most importantly, it is as imperative as it has ever been to make sure that you get every stage of the design, specification, and construction process correct. If mistakes are made, the consequences can be unthinkable.
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