Why is special inspection of firestop now required?

Are these building code changes going to impact your next project?

(Round 2 why the code changed)

Some of you are thinking, “ The building inspectors already look at the firestop.” Or maybe you are thinking, “It’s not that complicated.” If you look at ASTM E2174, which is the standard for third party inspection of firestop through penetrations and talk to an inspector about what is required to comply with an inspection at this level, most building officials will tell you they do not have the time for that. Some will even admit they don’t have the training to look at it adequately. Combine that, with the fact that some jurisdictions with strong local third party inspection firms have reported that the failure rate on most projects the first few inspections is generally around 50%. That is typical, which means of course some project teams are stronger, but it also means that some are failing inspections well over half the time. Now, to understand that better, you have to look at what goes into as ASTM E 2174 inspection.

 

First the inspector needs to do one of two types of inspection. They either need to witness the inspection on 10% of each type of installation type or they need to conduct destructive testing on 2% of each type. When inspecting a firestop installation the following items must be reviewed by the inspector and they must confirm that each item conforms to the submitted and approved firestop assembly. That assembly must be tested and listed with a third party agency (most commonly Underwriters Laboratories or UL). When conducting an inspection according to this standard all of these elements must be reviewed. Each line here could warrant a series of blog posts because there is so much more information that needs to be known than what is just written here, but this is a decent start at least:rated assembly-to ensure it conforms with what is allowed in firestop details:

  • rated assembly-to ensure it conforms with what is allowed in firestop details
    • stud depth is a critical often overlooked component
  • penetrating item- to ensure they match in material, size etc
    • changes in material or size can have a major impact
  • sleeve- is it allowed, required or optional
  • insulation- to ensure both material and thickness conform
  • type of firestop material – manufacturer and material name
    • not all firestop is the same, even from the same manufacturer
  • annular space- minimum and maximum
    • both are very important and must be conformed to
  • sealant depth and any required bead of sealant
    • this requires an entirely different discussion
  • backing material- type, depth and compression
    • all three can be critical
  • square ducts over a certain size require retaining angle
  • plastic pipe over a certain size it requires a firestop collar
    • collars require washers and anchor type will vary based on substrate
    • plastic pipe over another size requires all that plus foil tape

 

You want your project being inspected by someone who knows how to look at each of these elements to confirm it conforms to the firestop details. You also want them to know WHY each is critical to the life safety of a building. If they can share this information with the team during the mandatory pre-construction meeting it has a tendency to increase the perceived level of importance for the entire team and may even increase team collaboration.  HLS pre-con meetings have been called “A GAME CHANGER” by some of our project teams.

 

If your project is hiring a third party inspection firm who does everything under the sun, including firestop and you want to know whether or not you are getting what you are paying for, contact us and we will help you make sure that your project is actually complying with the requirements of the codes and standards. You may be surprised by everything they should be doing.

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UL Future Built Forum Intro

January 2019 in the middle of a “Polar Vortex” I attended an event that was worth braving the cold for.

I wish I could take you back to the event so you could sit in the room and hear the presentations. The speakers were fantastic and the presentations were PACKED with information. I want to thank Underwriters Laboratories, Fire Department City of New York  and International Association of Fire Fighters for sponsoring such a great event and I hope to be able to attend the next one. I learned not only from the presentations but from conversations with others in attendance who were all eager to learn and share. Can you tell I was in fire geek heaven for two days?

I can’t wait to share all of this with you. UL has generously allowed me to share the slides. Here is what they covered int he two days

There were several discussions about Tall Timber construction. they were presented by architects and fire officials. You likely know that the 2021 code will allow Tall Timber, or cross laminate timber up to 18 stories. Many people think, “WOOD BURNS that is a horrible idea!”  Well, wood does burn, that is a fact. Lets look at a few there facts.

  • ICC has reviewed extensive fire test data provided by the industry and approved it.
  • These buildings are going up all over the world. A quick google search will give you an idea of where and how tall.
  • Steel is strong, but according to this article in Fire Engineers it will lose its structural stability at 1100F. The time temperature curve used by US fire tests will require the temperature to be 1000F at the five minute mark and 1300F at the ten minute mark. Without properly applied protection, steel is very weak in a fire.
  • Wood burns, yes. As it burns that char that is created insulates the inner layer of wood and the structural stability of wood is lost in stages rather than all together upon hitting a critical temperature.

Before you dismiss this  idea of tall timber buildings as crazy,  I encourage you to learn more about it. If you are curious about my personal opinion (or even if you aren’t, you are about to get it) I like what I have seen in the fire data that has been presented. It is impressive, but not yet extensive. I am still on the fence, but I am eager to be involved with a CLT project so I can learn more. One thing I have learned is that QA/QC will be CRITICAL. Not that it is unimportant in concrete buildings or wood framed buildings, but it could prove a greater liability to those contractors who are not completely educated or worse willing to cut corners. If you work on a CLT project you can NOT have someone with the “we have always done it this way” mentality, because this is all new.  If you are working on a CLT project and want help with the QA/QC please call me.

The second discussion was on battery storage inside buildings. I did not attend this segment because of other obligations. I was able to return in time for the discussions on exterior facades and high rise fire fighting challenges.

I will share all the slides and I may share some of my thoughts along the way.

I want to again thank all of those involved in this event, the sponsors, the speakers, the organizers and the attendees. I was honored to be among you all and grateful for all you shared with everyone.  I hope to be able to attend any future events you have.

 

 

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Hospital Fire- One Death

I just returned from Utah doing firestop training for a great group of guys. Installers, hospital facilities guys, GC’s, electricians and special inspectors. It was a long day, but I hope they learned a lot. Then I get home and hear about a hospital fire resulting in loss of life.

 

If any of you need help to ensure the life safety is done right on your projects, don’t hesitate to give me a call. Many of you know I don’t charge for simple calls to help get you on the right track. I always support those of you who want to do it right.

 

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Do you have PEX on your project? Make sure this mistake isn’t happening.

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 problem:

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.

 

The solution:

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.

 

 

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Firestopping Hollow Core Concrete- Part 1

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
    1. Min 4pcf mineral wool
    2. Ceramic fiber blanket
    3. Concrete
    4. Grout
    5. mortar

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.

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How Fast will a Building Burn Loaded with Modern Furniture?

Not long ago I shared a video with you that showed how much faster a fire burns with todays modern furnishings. This video shows the impact not on just a single room, but rather the entire structure.

Watch the video here

Both videos are a horrifying reminder of the importance of practicing fire drills at home and at work. If you are in the construction industry this should be a stark reminder of how important it is to get your life safety scope right, every time.

If you are not completely sure that your firestop is right, give us a call and we can help you identify if you have a liability or if you are on the right track.  If your teem needs a gentle nudge in the right direction or a whole new map of where to go, we can cater our service to suit your needs and your budget. Give us a call and lets see what how we can work together. 201-250-4193

Happy to help those who want to do it right!

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Reviewing a Firestop Submittal or Installations (part 2)

In our last video we started our discussion about UL nomenclature. This video will finish off the discussion of the nomenclature and the next two will talk about how to put this new information to use on your projects.  For now, check out this second discussion and let us know what you think!

Have a fun and safe Fourth of July Celebration!

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