Welcome to this section of our firestop blog where we will discuss general information related to firestop plumbing contractors scope of work. Some of these posts will be repeated on the other trades segments because they are relevant there as well. Our focus with this blog is to educate the construction industry on firestop and improve the level of life safety on all buildings. We have worked on projects all over the US and internationally so our breadth of experience will likely be an asset to your next project, whether you hire us to help make sure it runs smoothly or if you just stay tuned to this blog in order to improve your own work. This is Halpert Life Safety where we focus on “Saving Lives for the Life of the Building.”TM If you are a contractor who subs out the firestop scope, you still carry the liability of your subs work so you may want to know a little about it, and this blog is designed to do just that! If you self perform your firestop scope you definitely should stay tuned because this blog will help you reduce your companies liability on your projects. If you are a building inspector, third party special inspector, you will want to keep tabs on this blog as well and we would love to hear what you like or what you think we should add. If you want to be a guest blogger then by all means let us know. Let’s get started with our first key information segment. In order to know how to look critically at firestop you have to understand some basic information about the UL listed assemblies. So please start here
We have blogged about plastic sprinkler pipes in the past but it’s so easy to get it wrong, that it warrants more information. As always, we have a story for you, but before we get to the story however please know that despite the fact that we are mentioning two manufacturers in the story, we are NOT saying one is better than the other or showing favorites in any way. These are just the facts of the story as it played out in the field for us and could for you as well.
I was doing special inspection on a wood framed project where the installer was using STI’s WF300. This is a great material for wood framed projects. It’s cost effective and relatively versatile in wood framed construction. We had our submittals showing the listed details for each application they were using in the field. Towards the end of the project the contractor had the laborers make a supply run to finish up the final touches on the firestop. This is where our problem began.
After being in the industry for 20 years, a slight change in that iron oxide red causes one to take a closer look. The plastic sprinkler pipes came through a rated assembly and was firestopped like the other penetrations, but there was a slight difference in the material they used. Just barely enough to warrant a closer look, but just enough to see clearly, they used something different. Further discussion made the problem clear and rather serious.
Allow me to change gears for a moment and then we will bring these two discussions full circle.
CPVC pipes such as Flowguard, BlazeMaster, Corzan and TempRite are developed by Lubrizol. They have two great websites that you should keep handy if you work with projects that use plastic sprinkler pipes or CPVC.
This first one lists materials that have been tested and found to be compatible with these types of plastics.
This next one lists materials that are found to be incompatible. There are a handful of firestop products on this list. One of them is 3M’s CP25WB. Again, this is not a bad product, it is just not the appropriate material in this scenario and there are plenty of other materials on the list, so 3M is not alone. The problem is that the chemical compatibility can cause splits or holes in the plastic pipes. If the sprinkler pipes don’t start to leak before the sprinklers are needed, the change in pressure when the sprinklers engage will certainly test any system and one with small holes could impact water pressure and prevent sprinkler systems from performing as designed.
Here is another blog post on this topic in case you would like additional information.
This news article is just one of several that touch on the topic of compatibility issues.
So now that you have a little more background let’s get back to the story we started, back to our jobsite. The contractor sent a laborer to a local shop to get the firestop material they needed to finish the job. Certainly, on the shelf there was CP25WB and IC15WB. CP is red and IC is yellow. They knew that if they showed up on site installing yellow firestop that the inspector (aka me) would ask them for new firestop submittals for this new and different material, so they went with what seemed like the easy route.
When we returned for the inspection and noticed a slight difference in the color and started asking questions the installers brought the tube of the material they had used. They used CP on the CPVC pipes and as you can see from the links we shared; this creates a problem. Now that the materials have made contact the compatibility issue is present and you can’t just remove the sealant and replace it with the right red stuff or even the yellow stuff. You have to replace that section of pipe. If you don’t believe me, check with the various manufacturers or even your own corporate legal or risk management team.
It is not clear what this contractor chose to do, but after being informed of the issue and the potential severity we hope they chose to do the right thing.
Welcome back to the series where we talk about “stuff we see wrong in the field.” This blog is going to discuss a few challenges we have found with PEX lines in wood framed buildings. If you are working on a concrete project that is using PEX, you should still read this just in case you are making the same mistake. We hope it is useful.
Here is our field condition:
The plumber drilled a hole through the two by fours that are sitting on the plywood floor to frame the wall that will be built. The hole is less than ½” larger than the pex line they are running. This gives them just enough space for the bracket the plumber is using. In the field, they call them mickey mouse ears. I’m not sure what they call them in your area but here is an example of one.
The firestop installer simply smeared firestop around the pex line and covered the mickey mouse ears. It wasn’t until we did destructive testing that we discovered the problem. So, if you are an inspector on a project that is not going to require special inspection, please walk the site before the firestop is installed to see if they are using these things. If they are, you may want to ask a few questions. If you need some help give us a call.
The mickey mouse ears use up all the annular space that you need for the installation of the firestop material. With plastic pipes you typically need to have an intumescent firestop material. This is one that is capable of expanding to fill the void created when the plastic pipe melts away during a fire. The intumescent material can close down the opening and prevent the passage of fire.
Intumescent materials act like most things in nature. That is to say that they move in the area of least resistance. That means if it is sitting on the top of the two by four and adjacent to the pex pipe, when it starts to expand its going to move in the area of least resistance. This will be away from the pipe.
For this reason, the intumescent material needs to be forced into the opening so that the two by four, the concrete or the drywall can contain the sealant as it expands so it is forced into the center of the opening. This enables the material to close down the opening as the plastic pipe softens in a fire and yields to the expanding intumescent sealant.
This is also why, when a plastic pipe touches the side of the opening, its required to have a bead of sealant, which is a build-up of material along the edge of the penetrant and against the rated assembly.
However, when a detail allows for annular space to be 0-1” for example it does not mean that you can have 0 annular space all the way around the opening. If this is allowed the detail should say “continual point contact” and few details do.
There are a few ways to handle this. One would be to not use the Mickey Mouse ears. Another would be to install the firestop first and then force the sealant into the opening as you push the bracket into place. Inspection would be difficult and ensuring proper sealant depth during installation would be imperative.
If you run into this issue, let us know how you handle it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. We hope you found it valuable. If you did, please leave comments and let us know what other topics you would like to see us address in future blogs. Share this with anyone who can benefit and keep learning. Check back for more in this blog series as we discuss other field issues we encounter.
If you have a Hollow Core Concrete Project- You MUST Read This Blog Series!
Hollow core slabs have a number of advantages, but when it comes to firestop they create a number of challenges that must be addressed BEFORE the project starts in order to ensure a successful project. If you are currently on a hollow core project I hope you are getting this information in time.
If you wait until the pipes and cables are run and then try to figure out how to firestop everything ya’ might be screwed. You might not be able to firestop the penetrations properly in many cases. Realistically you will have two choices. Honestly, you won’t like either of them.
Choice 1: Ignore your problems and do it wrong and create a liability for your company and the people stuck with your building once you leave.
Choice 2: Work backwards, so you can move forward correctly. In some cases this will mean you have to remove the penetrating items first, so you can address the cores in the slab. Another option might be to use a product that you may not have in your budget.
I said, neither choice is a good one. They both suck, right? One creates a major liability and the other has cost implications. They both have a negative impact on your schedule if you didn’t take this into account before construction started. There are a few manufacturers with products that can help, but at the moment I can think of three different manufacturers with products that work for one solution but not another, so you would have to deal with three different sales people to find the best solutions.
I have been in the industry since 1999. Back then you were only allowed to use firestop details that specifically called out hollow core concrete in item number 1 of a UL listed detail. That is the section of the UL detail that lists the information about the rated assembly being penetrated.
That has changed and the details are not so limiting. Now you can use any CAJ or FA detail PROVIDED THAT YOU COMPLY WITH THE FOLLOWING.
- The thickness of the hollow core floor is the same or greater than the requirements of the firestop system
- The opening is not greater than 7” dia or 7”x7”
- Any cores breached by the opening need to be filled with min 4” depth of
- Min 4pcf mineral wool
- Ceramic fiber blanket
For more on these specifics please visit the UL website, right here on UL’s XHEZ.
The only time you do not have to adhere to the requirements noted above is when the listed detail calls out specifically Hollow Core concrete floors AND it doesn’t note these same requirements (see above). One example of this would be with pre-fabricated or semi-fabricated devices such as drop in devices that are similar to cast in place devices or sleeves. We will give you a few examples of these in our final Firestopping Hollow Core Concrete blog post.
In our next blog post I will explain why I hope that you are getting this information in time.
Just for this post I have unleashed the code geek. Be scared (no…not really- its painless I promise). After we talk about the code we will discuss the things to look for to ensure your team is conforming to the code.
First let’s clear up the difference between an opening and a penetration. An opening (IBC 2015 713.7) is a hole with a purpose such as a door or a window. Doors and windows are tested to their own standards when acceptable for use in a rated assembly. Note that there is a difference between the test for a horizontal and a vertical opening protection the same way as there is a difference between firestop assemblies. You cannot use a horizontal and a vertical assembly interchangeably. For instance, if you have an access door that you want to put in a mechanical shaft you cannot use that same door in a rated horizontal assembly, unless it is tested for that specific application. Its all about fire dynamics; they simply are not the same in each orientation.
IBC 2015 713.8.1 is on prohibited penetrations and basically says that any penetration in a shaft has to have something to do with the purpose of that shaft.
Here are a few things I have seen.
I was looking at a set of plans with an architect. I asked him if his fire extinguisher cabinets were surface mounted or recessed. Turns out they were semi-recessed and they created a code violation because they were located in the shaft wall assemblies. He relocated them outside of the shaft and all was well with the world (or at least with the extinguisher cabinets).
I mentioned this scenario in a class and someone asked if they could just use a rated extinguisher box. It is a great question, because this is a common misconception. Please remember that the rated extinguisher box or hose box allows you to have a giant hole in a rated wall and not have a code violation, except if that wall is a shaft…then it’s a prohibited penetration. If you have a hose box or an extinguisher box in a rated wall it must be a rated box as well. This is a whole different blog for another time though because there are a whole series of issues we need to talk about related to membrane penetrations. We will get to that later though.
What other things should you look for that are common prohibited penetrations?
Interestingly enough, most of these are membrane penetrations like the extinguisher cabinet. It could be corridor lighting, the magnetic hold open apparatus on smoke doors, exit signs and anything along these lines. These are not serving the purpose of the shaft, so they are prohibited in the wall assembly. This needs to be addressed early in a project or it can create serious headaches down the road.
Now if these same membrane penetrations are in your means of egress, they are relevant to the means of egress and therefore not a code violation. A mechanical shaft has to have mechanical pipes coming out of it to service the floors, it may need to have an access door and all of that is okay provided you are using a rated access door. The mechanical shaft does not have to have corridor sconce lighting and if it does, then you, my friend have a code violation.
Heads up gang, that prohibited penetrations section that we talked about with shafts relates to means of egress as well. If you have a duct or pipe that runs from one side of the corridor to the other side and doesn’t service that area then you have a code violation. In this case, however, the exit sign, mag hold and corridor lighting would not be a code violation because those things presumably serve a purpose in the corridor.
In our next post we will do an imaginary field walk and talk about what we might see. If you would like some help pulling all of this together don’t hesitate to contact us so we can help on your project.
Thanks for reading along so far. We have covered a lot in this series on shafts and hopefully you have been able to put some of this to use in the field. Next up, let’s look at what you should see when you are walking in the field looking at all that firestop stuff. Let’s put all this information to work for you.
First, you need to have the firestop submittals that show the firestop requirements for all of these shaft applications. If you don’t have the details, you can’t properly evaluate the installations.
Let’s walk a site together (You will need to use your imagination here). Say we are on the 5th floor of a hotel project. We are looking at a mechanical shaft. We have bare pipes and insulated pipes stubbing out of the wall to provide water to the bathroom. The shaft liner is up, but there is no firestop on the pipes. We go up to the 6th floor, the drywall is on the outer layer of all the shafts, but they have firestopped only about half of them. As you walk down the hall you see an area where they have not yet firestopped the penetrations into the shaft wall and you can see that they have not firestopped the shaft liner side. This is a problem. Firestop is required on both sides of a wall, even a shaft wall.
Let’s take the same scenario, but this time they did have firestop on the shaft liner side on the 6th floor. However, when you were on the 5th floor you noticed that the hole that was cut for the small insulated copper pipe is just big enough to get the pipe and the insulation through. The insulation was almost touching the cut edge of the drywall all the way around. You don’t have firestop submittals for the project so you can’t tell that the detail requires annular space of 0-1/2” and what you have in your field condition is continual point contact. The other thing you can’t see is that the firestop detail calls for 5/8” of firestop in the annular space. Since there is no annular space there is no way to achieve this depth requirement. You have some problems. The first problem is that you don’t have your firestop submittals so you can’t reference what is required when you talk to the installer. Second, they have created an installation that can not be finished correctly. Remember those blogs where we talked about continual point contact and the importance of proper annular space?
Please also remember, if you are looking at a block wall, they will have to firestop both sides of the wall, or one side but do it two times. This is true both for joints and for through penetrations. If it is a shaft, you likely can’t get to the inside to check on the installations so you may need to go to the bottom of the shaft before it is closed off to get a look, or you can conduct destructive testing to confirm that it was done right. Please also remember that the firestop details have to match the field installations. If they don’t, it is non conformant.
If you are working on a project and you have questions about your firestop submittals, or installations please do not hesitate to give us a call. We are happy to help when we can and if you are close enough we might even swing by to help out if our schedule is open.
The 2015 IBC code section …don’t worry, it will be painless and its SUPER useful information. Stick with me please!
Section 713 is on shaft enclosures and there are a few things you really need to know. I’m going to generalize and just tell you to go online for the specifics when you really need them (or hire me and I can give them to you).
Generally a shaft has 4 sides, a top and a bottom. Your shaft may have 3 sides or it may have 10 sides, but for simplicity we will assume it is like most shafts and has 4 sides. It MUST have a top and a bottom because remember your floors are required to have a 2 hour rating (in most concrete buildings) and the shaft has to match the floor’s rating so that you can have an unprotected hole in the floor that could potentially run the height of the building.
It has to have a bottom, which could be the ground floor, or it could be a horizontal rated assembly made of concrete, gypsum or in some cases firestop materials.
It also has to have a top. That can be the roof or again it could be one of the rated assemblies we talked about. If you have a penetration through the top or bottom of the shaft you will have to firestop those penetrations.
Guess what! If you use a horizontal gypsum assembly then there are no UL listed details for penetrations through a horizontal shaft wall assembly. You automatically have to get an EJ. Is that included in your firestop submittals? It should be!
Now the top or bottom of your shaft could be part of a room, for example if you have a trash chute or linen chute then the bottom of the shaft can be the laundry or trash room provided the surrounding walls are rated and you have no prohibited penetrations.
More on prohibited penetrations in our next post! If you have shafts on your project or are concerned that your firestop submittals might be missing something, as always contact us here.
If you want to learn more about protecting commercial kitchen exhaust or the new requirements for AHJ’s with the need for firestop special inspection or when they are required we have some classes for you to consider. If you want information on other classes provided by DCA please see this brochure. Sharron is excited to be teaching these two classes again this year. I know we will be talking about codes and standards but we actually manage to have a bit of fun.
In our last blog post we talked a little about shaft walls, what they are made of and some things to keep an eye out for. We will build on that as we go.
Today we are going to look at firestop submittals as they relate to shaft wall assemblies, so the next time you are reviewing project documents you will have a better idea if something is missing. The easiest way to understand this discussion is to quickly review the UL nomenclature post found here so this will be easier to follow. If you do not know this nomenclature its much more difficult to conduct this exercise.
First let’s think about the RATED JOINTS. Let’s assume that the project has both block shafts and gypsum shafts. As you look at the firestop submittals pull out the HW (head of wall) details and look for the types of shaft walls you have on your project. For this discussion we will assume you have both gypsum and block shaft walls.
You will likely have a handful of HW details but if you have gypsum shafts you need to be sure the project has a detail for firestopping this gypsum shaft. When you look at the WL details for gypsum walls, you will notice it is not like the standard gypsum wall details, namely because the shaft walls are built differently so they need to be firestopped differently as well. This will require sealant at the shaft liner as well as on the outer layers of drywall. If you allow this wall type to be firestopped when the wall construction is complete, you will not have a compliant system because you will only have protection from one side of the wall. This would create a major liability for the installer as well as the GC, building owner and building occupants. If you are looking at a WL2000 series detail for plastic pipes, be sure to take a closer look, but do the same for all your penetration types.
If you have access to both sides of the wall, as you would in an elevator shaft, then it is easy to firestop the head of wall joint on a block wall from either side of the wall. Likewise you can firestop your through penetrations with either a CAJ or WJ detail. If you only have access to one side of the wall, you will need what is commonly referred to as a sandwiched detail and my guess is that it will likely be a WJ detail or possibly an engineering judgement. This would allow for firestop to be installed in four steps. Typically there would be installation of mineral wool recessed maybe 4-1/2” into the joint, then firestop sealant (let’s say it calls for ½” of sealant) then another layer of 3-1/2” of mineral wool followed by another ½” of sealant. There are 4 steps to this installation, which means 4 steps to any firestop inspection as well, unless the inspector wants to try to cut into this kind of joint application, which is going to be a challenge in and of itself. This also means that the firestop detail needs to show installation from one side if this is what the installers are doing.
That is what you expect to see when you are in the field, but when looking at the firestop submittals you need to be sure that the block wall detail that is provided can actually be installed on the project. Is it physically possible? You need to be sure there is a head of wall, bottom of wall and possibly a wall to wall detail for the gypsum assembly. It is not uncommon for a contractor to miss these details, so be on the lookout for them.
Next, think about what penetrations will be going through your shaft walls. The block and concrete walls often will not have access from the inside of the shaft so a sandwiched application needs to be used in many cases, though there are devices that can be used and installed from one side. If we are working on a project with you then we can help you determine which different manufacturers products would be best for various scenarios. Let’s say your stairwell walls are block or concrete. This means the firestop details you will need will start with either a CAJ or a WJ (potentially WK for thicker walls). You will need a 1000 series detail for your sprinkler pipes and conduits, unless you have plastic sprinkler pipes then you will need a 2000 series detail as well as a 3000 series for your MC cables. You won’t need a 7000 series detail for your ducts because they are going through a 2 hour wall and will require dampers. Pull out these details and be sure that if you only have one side access that the details will allow one sided access for the installation requirements. If not, you will need an Engineering Judgment. If you are in NJ, remember DCA does not allow EJ’s- sorry NJ.
Typically firestop installers will submit details for the various penetrations through a standard wall. These may be okay if the shaft wall type is included in what is allowed in the listed detail. If it is included, then you are fine, and if not then they need to submit a new detail. This will be found in item 1 of all details. These details will start with WL for gypsum framed walls and if it is a mechanical shaft you will likely have WL 1000 for metal pipes, WL 5000 for insulated pipes, maybe WL 2000 for plastic pipes. When doing the installation or inspection of these walls you will want to be sure to check annular space and sealant depth to be sure it conforms with the details. You will also want to be sure the installer firestops the shaft liner side before the outer two layers of drywall go up as you will see in one of the later posts.
We have given you a few things to be cautious about, but in our next post we will dig deeper into this and the building code. If you have questions about a recent firestop submittal please contact us for help.
Would you like to know how to make use of a firestop submittal in a way that will help you hold your installers accountable in a whole new way? If you are even thinking “maybe”, then you should join us for the 25th Fire Facts! It is put on by City Fire as an educational forum and is well attended every year.
We have a new session coming up Feb 2nd in Princeton. If you join us, you will leave with a new set of skills that you can put to use the very next day (or at least the following Monday). This is hands down my favorite class to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I have fun with all of my classes, but this one is packed with valuable information…and it’s free! Come for the CEU’s, come for the information and you will get some good food, great company and valuable information about firestop, hot works and carbon monoxide.
If you want to join us, please contact Melissa Palmisano for more details and to register. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOPE TO SEE YOU IN PRINCETON!
The NEW YEAR started with me doing a training seminar at Seton Hall. Paul McGrath of City Fire invited me to speak at their 25th Fire Facts Seminar and it was awesome. I had so much fun, jumping around on a huge stage talking about building codes, standards, firestop and passive fire protection. Those of you who have been in my classes know what a dork I am, and how much I love it!
At lunch I sat with a few guys. One who had been in one of my previous classes. Like most of us, he wears many hats. One is arson investigator.
During lunch our discussion bounced to raising kids with integrity and teaching them to be accountable for their actions. We talked about how, if there are no consequences to the kids negative behavior, then the behavior won’t change. I confessed to having stolen a candy bar when I was a kid and told of how my mother made me take it back into the store, give it back to the lady, apologize and tell her why it was wrong. One of the guys had done the same thing with his young son and a pack of gum.
I was struck by the fact that there was a direct connect to this parenting move and the way I was hearing the insurance company is currently handling fire cases. As a parent, there has to be consequences to a child’s behavior; positive consequences to positive behavior and negative consequences to negative behavior. What I was hearing at lunch was making it clear that the insurance industry needed help learning how to hold contractors and building owners accountable.
Rather than put in the legwork to identify construction that did not conform to the codes, the insurance companies just paid out the claims. This means that the contractor, who didn’t do the job right and created a scenario where a fire was allowed to propogate, or even started due to non-code-conformant installations, has no negative consequences for bad installations. This is only letting people off the hook.
Now, I will be the first to tell you, I don’t know a great deal about insurance! I will also tell you that I do not want to offend anyone with this post. What I do want to accomplish with this is to:
1) raise awareness
2) start a conversation
3) be a catalyst for positive change in the industry
We all know what it typically takes for people to sit up and take notice. DEATH or massive loss always gets people’s attention. Then the masses cry, “How could this happen?”
Trying to initiate change before you have everyone’s attention is not the easy route, but I would like to do just that before it comes to something tragic and I am asking for help from the Linked In community.
What ideas do you have regarding how we can have a positive impact that will help insurance companies be able to hold contractors accountable. I know a few years ago there was a case where a building owner did not maintain their sprinkler system and the insurance company did not have to pay out. That old post can be found here.
If you have any ideas of how to help or if you can answer any of these questions please shoot me an quick note (or a long one if you prefer). Your help may be the catalyst to the positive change we all need to see.
What events/trade shows/conferences would be interested in hearing more about this?
Do you have any contacts who could help with this agenda?
Do you have any ideas or data that would be useful in initiating this change?
As always, thank you all for reading this diatribe. Keep Learning! Do better every day and on the days you don’t; just remember there is tomorrow and take advantage of that when the day arrives.