What’s this firestop stuff?

On this blog the primary thing we talk about is firestop. Maybe because that is what I am passionate about, at least from a work perspective.  I guess I assume you know what I am talking about.  Recently it was brought to my attention that maybe that isn’t the case.  Not everyone knows what it is or why its important in construction so compliments of the International Firestop Council I will share this with you.

Law suit involving sprinkler industry

This article discusses a Miami lawsuit involving plastic sprinkler pipes. People in the firestop industry have known for ages that there are sensitive compatibility issues regarding Lubrizol, a compound in the CPVC used for plastic fire sprinkler pipes. This is not new information and the company clearly shares information about what IS NOT compatible and what has been tested and found to be compatible. (click on the respective links to see the pages from the manufacturer) I don’t know any of the details of the case aside from what can be cobbled together on the web.  It seems, from what I have read, that condo associations just found a gold mine.

The thing is, when you build in a salt environment (like Miami) you have corrosion issues if you use steel pipes, so plastic has a huge advantage.  They are claiming it is a DEFECT because of incompatibility.  I’m not sure that is a “defect” per se.

I see it as similar to galvanic reaction.  This is where you can’t have aluminum MC cable touching copper pipes without a barrier to prevent corrosion (google it if you have to, its kinda cool science …unless it muks up your project, then it just sucks).  The thing is, that you can’t sue physics for corrosion on steel pipes or galvanic reaction, but you can sue the manufacturer of the plastic pipe.  So, bring on the lawyers.

Based on what I know (which is admittedly limited on this case) it sounds like lawyers and condo owners just wanna cash in and its at the expense of a company or companies who may or may not have some cash.  If Im allergic to peanut butter can I sue Reece’s if I eat their product? (Thank God that is not the case..I’m a huge fan!)

All that said…If they find it was a cover up, then hang em.  If it was just that the sprinkler contractor didn’t know the industry well enough, the firestop contractor didn’t read the details they submitted or that the GC didn’t actually have proper QA/QC on the project…HANG EM. That is just my two cents.

I wonder how this will shake out.  If anyone finds out, please let me know.

Gratuitous Plug: A good Consultant or Third-Party Special Firestop Inspector should catch this sort of thing…just saying.  There are a myriad other issue out there that can be avoided by building the right team.

Why you should know more about how firestop is tested.

Understanding more about HOW firestop is tested will help you understand what is important when inspecting it. It will help you understand how firestop installations can fail when they are not installed properly. This series will address a wide array of issues while discussing how firestop is tested.

 

If you want to understand firestop and why certain requirements are important then you need to understand how firestop is tested. You could dig out the standards from ASTM or UL and read all about the process for firestop tests. But, that is a bit dry. So, this will be an attempt to explain how firestop is tested without getting dry and technical. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle so bare with me as we discuss each one. Along the way you will also garner a better understanding for WHY all this stuff matters. This will be a series of interconnected posts that will loop back into each other and connect with former posts so you can skip what you already know or beef up on things you may want to know more about. Let’s get started.

 

WHY: Why do we test firestop? The basic answer is to ensure safe installations and to keep all the various manufactures on the same playing field and playing with the same rules.

 

If you want to create a firestop material and have any hope of selling it in the US, you have to first have it tested by a third party testing agency. There are a number of companies who will do the test, but the lions share of the through penetration tests are done at Underwriters Laboratories. There are more and they include such as Omega Point Labs, Warnock Hersey and others. Having a material tested by a third-party testing agency means that each manufactures material will be subject to the same type of critique and will have to meet the same expectations in the test burn.  This means that the end user can have the same expectations of any product installed according to the details in the tested and listed documentation. Understanding why certain elements of a test are important requires you to know more about HOW things are tested. Here is a start to the explanation:

 

Here are some basics:

Rated floor or wall– the assembly is built, allowed time to cure, set on the furnace. The assembly is peppered with thermocouples’ connected to computers so they can make sure the non-fire side of the assembly doesn’t get too hot. There are specific requirements to how they are placed. You can read more about if you wish by digging into the actual test requirements. We wont get into those specifics here other than to say that the edges of the assembly are not really considered important to this particular test because they are covered in the test for rated joints. This test assembly will be tested for an F rating and for a T rating.

 

The F rating is the time it takes for fire to breach the assembly. If you are testing a gypsum wall for 1 hour and fire breaches the wall before 60 minutes then you will fail the test. If it breaches at 61 minutes you have at least passed for a one-hour assembly. The T rating is a bit more complex, but still very important. We will save that for our next blog topic, so don’t forget to check in with us next week.

The technical term for this is to ensure that the F rating equals the T rating. There is a whole other topic that needs to be addressed which is the hose stream test, which is an important part of the test and again warrants its own blog post to come shortly.

 

Rated Joints– the test for the rated joints is basically the same as the test for the rated assemblies, but with a few additions. Now, we are dealing with two different assemblies. The way they are connected will provide the “code required” continuity of a rated assembly. So, if you have a floor joining a wall and they are both rated, we want to know that the joint between the two assemblies will be capable of withstanding the same rigors as the two assemblies independently. The tests are similar but there is one added dimension for many joint assemblies. (note we are not talking about Perimeter Containment/Edge of Slab firestop)

 

Joint assemblies can be either static (no expectation of movement) or they can be dynamic. Dynamic joints are subject to very specific movement criterion (another topic for later) the joints also require that the F rating and the T rating are the same, meaning that significant amounts of heat wont pass through the rated joint. This expectation will make more sense once we post the information on T ratings shortly.

 

Through Penetration- As you might expect, the test for through penetrations is very similar to the test for rated assemblies and rated joints. The differences are that we don’t have the T rating requirement. The T rating is a measure of thermal transfer (how much heat goes through the assembly). If you have a copper pipe running through a concrete floor the heat will be on the non-fire side of the assembly very quickly because copper is an excellent conductor. Therefor the T-rating requirement is not in the test standard but rather in the building code (you guessed it, a topic for later discussion). These through penetration tests often have a requirement that the penetrant be rigidly supported. This causes problems for the firestop installer in some cases, but causes even bigger problems for the long-term impact of the firestop if it is not complied with. This is a common deficiency in firestop installations.

 

If you have attended one of our training seminars or if you already know a bit about firestop you may be thinking…she didn’t even mention the hose stream test. This is critical to understanding why certain elements of the firestop listed assembly are so critical, such as sealant depth, annular space and other topics, but it also helps you understand how various drywall patch applications would not survive the laboratory test conditions AND you guessed it- it’s a topic for another blog post!

 

So we have basically set the groundwork for the next few months of posts. I hope you take the time to write in and let us know what you think and what else you think we should include. If you need help on a project don’t hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help you improve the level of life safety on your building.

 

 

Plastic Sprinkler Pipes? You need to know this!

Hi everyone!  I had the pleasure of speaking to a great group of fire fighters yesterday and in our discussion it became apparent that I needed to share this information with the rest of you, so here it is!

If you have a project that is using plastic sprinkler pipes you need to check this link.  It will give you a list of materials that are “non-compatible”.  Many of them will (over time) etch holes in the sprinkler pipes.  There are a number of products, but since we talk about firestop here you need to know that there are three firestop materials that have compatibility concerns.  If it is useful to know the other materials, please review the list and refer back to it regularly as it is updated on an as needed basis.

A basic explanation of the problems non-compatible materials can cause:

“Amorphous polymers like CPVC derive their strength from the fact that they are long chain-like molecules all tangled together. A failure of the plastic occurs when enough chains break or become disentangled that a breach develops in the solid polymer. This breakage and/or disentanglement can be caused by strong mechanical stresses (e.g., impact damage), strong chemical effects (e.g., solvation or plasticization), or frequently some combination of moderate levels of both. Only a relatively small number of chemicals are capable of achieving disentanglement of the polymer chains all by themselves without the assistance of some mechanical or other external force being exerted on the plastic as well. When both chemical effects and external mechanical forces are needed to contribute to overcoming the strength of the material, the mode of failure is known as environmental stress cracking.”

This was pulled from the Lubrizol website and you can read the rest of the publication here by downloading the file on the right hand side.

If you have any questions, about this its probably best you contact Lubrizol directly.  If you have questions about firestop, you can always reach out to me.  Enjoy the rest of your week and as always, keep “Saving lives for the Life of the Building!”tm

Hospital needs fire safety retrofit due to poor construction

Not that you need it, but here is proof that doing it right the first time is just good business.  10 years later the contractor is being made to remedy problems they didn’t take care of the first time.  Having a company like HLS on your team will ensure this doesn’t happen on your project whether you are the building owner or the GC.  Read the article here.  If you want to learn more about our process contact us here.

Changes to your local building code and what it means

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

(Round 1- why the code changed)

Who has the time to read through the building code to look for changes, heck even if you did have the time, who wants to read building code. It’s right up there with wanting to give the dog a bath or clean your car. Lucky for you, I’m kinda into that code stuff, so I will take the boring blah di blah, blah of the codes and standards and put it into a few related segments that will help you understand how and IF this code change will impact your next project. In this series, we will also discuss how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that projects have encountered. If your project is being built under the 2012 or 2015 IBC, then this is for you. If your project is being built under the 2009 code or any earlier code; sit back and relax, because none of this matters for you. But flag this post just the same because it won’t be long before you will need to know this information.

This series of blogs will talk about why this code change came about, which types of buildings this will impact, what this means to your project, the pitfalls that you want to avoid, where to find the requirements related to this. We will blend the requirements of the codes and the standards, so you don’t have to hop back and forth between them.

The code change we are talking about here is in chapter 17, which is the chapter on Special Inspections. Third-party special inspection is required on anything that requires an extra critical eye because of the complexities of the installation and potential impact to the building and the safety of the occupants if installations don’t conform to the requirements. For example, elements of construction that are integral to the structural integrity of the building, such as concrete, steel welding or bolting, spray applied fireproofing and seismic elements; all require special inspection. Firestop is integral to the life safety of a project because, if it is not done correctly, then the compartmentation will fail and the expected level of life safety will not be met. Compartmentation is the concept of keeping a fire boxed in and not letting it spread beyond the compartments boundaries for a specific time period. It the compartmentation fails, this poses a risk to the lives of the building occupants, first responders who are rescuing people and fighting the fire and also increases the opportunity for property damage.

Bare in mind, this special inspection requirement does not apply to all buildings, but we will outline which projects are impacted by this change in another blog post. For now, let’s get started with why these changes came about.

I’m going to give you the short version, but know there is a very long and involved back-story and if you want to know more I suggest you contact the International Firestop Council and you will get some great answers.

I will avoid going into a history lesson on this, but let’s say firestop started being required on projects rather earnestly in the 1980’s. Not many people knew much about it and back then inspectors looked for “red stuff” around penetrations and that was good. Shady installers started mixing Kool-aide with drywall mud because then the inspectors would get what they were looking for “red stuff”. Inspectors caught on and installers learned more and things improved. However, one thing remains the same. If a drywaller or plumber decides to install their own firestop, who does the work? Typically it is scope given to the apprentices with little or nor direction. How is anyone supposed to get it done right that way? How is anyone supposed to think that firestop is important, if it is relegated to the apprentice level?

Then came the specialty contractor. The idea is, that if they specialize in this scope of work, then they must know if better. This is the case often enough, but all together too often the same mentality prevails and the level of training of the field installers is lacking. This is not entirely their fault though. If an inspector walks a project and points out three different things that are wrong with the firestop, then the installer will assume that the rest of the things are done right. This is not going to be entirely accurate.

So, then it’s the inspectors fault?

NO.. Unequivocally NO.

I can’t tell you how many inspectors I’ve talked to who tell me that they have some training, but still are not going to have the knowledge base or the time to review firestop to the level of this standard. When they learn what is required by the new special inspection, they often shake their heads.

Why?

Because there is no way they have the time to inspect firestop to that level of scrutiny, not to mention the time to generate the reports that are required for the project.  Many inspectors are grateful that the requirement will make buildings in their jurisdictions safer and remove the burden from them.   It will relieve the burden of inspection from them, but they are still going to need to now what to look for to ensure the special inspectors allowed to work in their jurisdiction are doing what they are supposed to. These are inspectors who understand the importance of firestop as a critical element to the life safety of a building. Not the ONLY one, but certainly one element and certainly critical.

This is why the codes have changed. It has become apparent that the level of scrutiny needs to be increased and the burden cannot be placed on building officials on all projects. They will still have to inspect firestop, but not on projects where this special inspection requirement is mandated. We will get into more about what the changes mean to your project and how you can prepare for your next project.

If you are a building inspector wanting more information these code changes and how they will impact projects in your jurisdiction? Please contact us and we will send you some help.

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SLEEVES (Part 5)

The last post talked about the problems with selecting a sleeve size without considering the depth of the insulation correctly. This posting will continue the discussion of common errors and potential solutions. Please read the last few posts if you have not already because we are building on what has already been discussed.

We are making two assumptions:

1) We assume you are going through a rated wall, because otherwise firestop is not part of your discussion. If the wall is NON rated this sleeve size might be acceptable, but in a rated wall you have issues with regard to the annular space requirements.

2) We are assuming the application is going through concrete. If you are going through drywall, then the opening should simply be enlarged and firestopped correctly.

Wrong move #2:

Our next scenario the contractor decides that 2” insulation plus a 4” pipe and 2” more of insulation means they will need an 8” sleeve. Many details will require SOME annular space, and even the details that call for 0”-2” annular space will not allow for CONTINUAL POINT OF CONTACT (stay tuned for a blog on when you can allow continual point of contact) which is what you will have in this scenario. Having adequate annular space is key to the installation working as expected. For now let’s just say that the annular space impacts the volume of material that can be installed and the volume of material will impact the results in a fire. While you may have a detail that allows for point of contact it won’t allow for continual point of contact because some sealant needs to be installed. So this means the sleeve is going to look really goofy when just the bare pipe is going through it. It is going to look incredibly over sized since it needs to be more than 2x the size of the pipe.

Potential fix #1:

Our last post, talked about a potential fix being using the mineral wool required in the firestop installation in lieu of the pipe insulation. Before doing this be sure to review the specifications because this may not be allowed and for various reasons it may be a bad idea, but that is for the mechanical and plumbing guys to deal with.

Potential fix #2:

It may be possible to use the insulation but to reduce the thickness where the pipe goes through the wall so that the firestop materials can be used and conform to the UL listed assembly.  Again check with the plumber or mechanical contractor for their professional input.

Potential fix #3:

No one will like this solution, but it’s still worth noting if this problem is caught before the pipe has been run. The contractor can core the hole bigger so it can accommodate the appropriate installation.  Then you would eliminate the sleeve all together, so be sure your firestop system will allow the new field parameters. Remember that the details in your firestop submittal need to match the field conditions.

Potential fix #4:

There are a number of variables that can be considered so if none of these solutions work to resolve your problem please contact us and we will see if we can not help you find a better solution based on your particular circumstances.

Resolve the problem early- pick the right sized sleeve:

So, for a 4” pipe with 2” insulation you are going to need to use a 10” sleeve. That will only give you 1” of annular space (assuming that your pipe is centered in the opening- if it is off center then you are likely to have min 0” max 2”- but again you won’t have continual point of contact because that would likely result in a non-compliant installation. Contact us at info@halpertlifesafety.com or call us at 201-250-4193 and we will walk you through some potential options. We won’t address it on this blog because there are too many variables to getting this right and you would be reading forever. Just call us, and we will figure it out together.

If you want your construction team to be more aware of these topics before, during and after construction; then we can help. We have conducted countless training seminars for architects, engineers, inspectors and a wide array of construction staff. If you are interested in learning more, building a stronger team and making sure your projects perform better in the event of a fire; please contact us to arrange for a training program.

Port Authority Training Class

The weekend was a blur of work Friday to Sunday on a beautiful condominium project. Then tomorrow we will be conducting a full day training course at the Port Authority.  We will get you the next post on firestop sleeves later this week.