Read this if You are Building in a Seismic Zone? Part 1 of 2

Are you building in a Seismic Zone?  If so, are you aware that there is a required clearance around your sprinkler pipes. If you do not meet this requirement, you are risking the life safety of your building. So, if you are in a seismic zone, please ensure your team conforms with this requirement.


Allow me to share a little story with you before we get into the specifics.


I was part of the quality control team on a massive construction project. I had written the build team up, because they did not conform with this particular clearance requirement we are discussing.  The executive team called me into a meeting to explain the information in the report.   I didn’t know everyone in the room, but of the executives I knew, I had tremendous respect for them. My goal has always been to be a catalyst for positive change and you can’t do that if you run around with a chip on your shoulder always having to prove you are right. My responsibility was to help make the building as fire safe as possible.


My report said that they didn’t have proper clearance around the sprinkler pipes. The sprinkler guy asked me what I was talking about. I confirmed that we were in a seismic zone and then mentioned that “I thought” the NFPA had requirements for clearance around pipes, but that the sprinkler guy works in the NFPA realm and I work in the IBC realm. So, I asked if he would do me a favor and check the NFPA and confirm whether or not I was right.


He agreed and what this man did next surprised me. It also made me glad I didn’t just tell him, “I’m right and you are wrong!”.


This guy found the code section I had referred to. He emailed it not only to me, but also to the entire team of executives who were at the table. He thanked me for bringing this to his attention and promised to rectify the issues I had brought to light.


The next time he saw me in the hall way, he stopped me and said, “Hey, in that last meeting…You knew what you were talking about and probably could have quoted the code section off the top of your head.  Am I right?“ I smiled and said “9.3.4? Yeah” As he walked away smiling, he just said “Thanks”.


I could have fought with him. Maybe I could have made him look bad, but instead I earned his respect and who knows the ripple impact that made.  My hope is, that he never forgot that codes section again and buildings he was involved with were safer because of it. So, the next time you know you are right, take power in that and don’t get defensive when people question you. Find a way to make a wave of positive change.



For those of you who don’t know NFPA 13, section 9.3.4, it basically says that, if you are in a seismic zone, all pipes through concrete or block walls and floors have to have a flexible coupling within 1 foot of each side of the floor or wall. There is an exception for “frangible substrates” (easily breakable) such as a gypsum wall IF it is not rated or IF you are using non-metallic pipes that have sufficient flexibility.  So, if you are making a hole in a rated wall or floor for a sprinkler pipe, please remember that without the seismic coupling, the hole needs to be sized:

2” larger than the outside diameter if your pipe is 1” to 3.5”

4” larger than the OD of the pipe if your pipe is 4” or larger


That means if you have an 8” diameter pipe, you have to have a 12” diameter hole.



If an inflexible pipe is going through concrete, the concern is that the seismic activity could potential cause the pipe to bash into the concrete floor or wall. This could easily result in one of two scenarios:

  1. the pipe breaks and can not supply water to the fire
  2. the rated concrete assembly breaks and can no longer preventive passage of smoke and fire



I hope this little tidbit can be useful to your next project if you are in a seismic area. If you are, I would suggest you read this section of the NFPA so you know the specifics; because this information is just a general overview and there is additional information in the code, above what I have noted here, that might be pertinent to your project.  But we have not even talked about firestop YET…


Our next post will explain a bit of a problem that you may encounter due to this requirement.  If you have any questions or if we can support your construction project, please reach out to us. Please share this with anyone who may benefit from this. Until then, keep learning and be safe!



Sold Out Show

When you hear SOLD OUT SHOW you usually think about rock stars, comedy acts and athletes and not building codes and standards.  Thats not the case this week!  I’m so excited to be speaking to a group of architects at the AIA NY meeting. When I heard it is a sold out event that was even better. Here’s hoping we can help people understand the codes and standards related to firestop and encourage taking some extra time to ensure its done right.

Firestopping Hollow Core Concrete- Part 4

We are almost done with our discussion on firestopping Hollow Core Concrete projects, but we can’t leave without sharing the last few common mistakes.


The real problem comes when the subcontractors run their pipes, ducts and cables without knowing that the mineral wool, concrete, grout or mortar is required.  Once these services are run, you are going to be hard pressed to actually firestop the installation properly.   Think about it for a moment. If you have a 7” core through the floor slab and you want to run  a 6” pipe (or a 4” pipe with 1” of insulation) in the hole, how are you going to get 4” of mineral wool into each side of the core (or possibly two cores that have been breached by the core rig.  That is when you are stuck with one of two really bad choices I noted earlier.


One more thing I should tell you before we are done. One AHJ I spoke with read the paragraph from the XHEZ document because he had been in one of our classes. He noticed that the thickness of the concrete had to match the requirements of the listed detail. He said, we have 4” of concrete so that should give us the minimum concrete required for a two-hour floor.  Unfortunately, if you speak with UL about this you will learn that this is not accurate. Here is why.  The topping slab cannot be considered as part of the rated assembly because when the rated assemblies are tested, there are no topping slab. Therefore, the performance of that material is not tested. This means it can’t be considered as part of the assembly.


These are not the only problems that you may encounter when firestopping in hollow core concrete, but they are the most commonly missed issues.  If you have a hollow core concrete project and you want to be sure you are not stuck with one of those two really bad choices, give us a call and we will be happy to help.  If you are in the area ,we can be on site and be part of your pre-con meeting.  If we can’t be there in person, we can call into a meeting and help your team plan ahead and avoid these issues.


There is a lot to consider in these last few blog posts, so if you prefer you can always hire us to help support your project.  Typically, we can provide a general oversight for much less than you would think. Past clients tell us we have made a colossal difference in the level of life safety. Would you like to see what we can do for you?

Give us a call!

Firestopping Hollow Core Concrete- Part 3

Welcome back to our discussion about firestopping hollow core concrete. If you are still with us, then we hope it is because you want to make sure your next hollow core concrete project runs smoothly and that the firestop installations conform to requirements.


The topic today- BLOCK OUTS


When firestop is not part of the pre-construction discussion on a hollow core concrete project, typically the openings sizes cavalierly exceed 7”x7” that you now understand as a typical requirement. This means the opening may not be firestopped without additional documentation.  Larger openings can cause other complications as well because of the unique nature of the floor.  Assuming you can get the necessary paperwork that may not be a big deal. By necessary paperwork we are talking about a listed detail allowing for an opening larger than 7”x7”, or an engineering judgement (EJ) from the firestop manufacturer that is unique to your firestop installer AND unique to that project. See IFC guidelines for EJ’s.


When it comes to block outs, people typically think the only thing they have to do is have a conversation with the structural engineer, but now you know that is not the ONLY thing you need to do.


Here are some things to consider:


  • How many block outs do you have planned on your project?
  • Are they larger than 7”x7”?
  • How are you going to firestop each of them?
  • Do you have a listed detail for each application?


You need to have a plan for how you are going to protect these block outs.  How you are going to maintain the fire rating of the floor once you make a hole in it.


Clearly the easiest thing for larger block outs, is to protect them with a shaft.  This eliminates the problem of firestopping them in the first place, but now you need to be sure you are going to firestop any shaft penetrations properly. We have shared a rather exhaustive discussion on how to firestop shaft applications properly in past blog posts.


Let’s break this down a little bit. Openings are not allowed to be larger than 7”x7” (or 7” diameter). The only exception is, if the opening is protected by a shaft.  But don’t forget that a shaft has to have a top and a bottom and if there will be a penetration through either of these, you will need to firestop this as well. Now you are falling back to the issue of finding a firestop detail applicable to that installation.


Typically, if your opening is larger than 7”x7” you will require an Engineering Judgement from the firestop manufacturer.   Then you have to ensure the installation conforms with whatever is required in that document.  That is unless you are in New Jersey, like me, where EJ’s are prohibited according to DCA (Department of Community Affairs). That is unless they go through as alternate means and methods (if your AHJ will allow it) or if they are approved by a third-party testing laboratory.  This can get complicated, so be on top of this when you start your project so you know how this will be handled in your jurisdiction.


Check back on our final post when we share a few common mistakes. If you have any questions about what we have shared so far, please reach out to us. We are happy to help if we are able.

Firestopping Hollow Core Concrete- Part 2

In our last post we discussed the firestop requirements for penetrations through hollow core concrete floors, we gave you a few examples of UL listed details that don’t require you to follow the requirements noted in the XHEZ


In the last blog, I said that I hoped you were getting this information in time.


Today, I want to explain why I made that comment. If you stick with us in the next post I will give you some ideas that might help your next project run more smoothly.


First, let me explain the problem you might face:


If your subs have run services half way up your building before they even think about what to do for the firestop installations, how are they going to get back in to the opening and fill those cells with any of the required material.


Here is a refresher of what is allowed:

Any cores breached by the opening need to be filled with min 4” depth of

  • Min 4pcf mineral wool
  • Ceramic fiber blanket
  • Concrete
  • Grout


So, let’s fix this before it becomes a problem.  The first step is DO NOT assume that everyone knows how to do this the right way.  Second step is to have a discussion, possibly at a pre-bid meeting, but certainly at a pre-construction meeting.


In this meeting, you need to make your team aware of the structural concerns related to a hollow core concrete floor, but you can’t forget to talk to them about firestop and here is what we suggest for the meeting.


  • Print out the UL XHEZ document (give everyone a copy)
  • Read the section on hollow core concrete in the meeting
  • Explain what this means to all of your trades by giving specific examples based on the firestop submittals
  • Put it in your meeting minutes in detail
  • Completely review the firestop submittals against the penetrations you will have on the project (see our video series for more on how to do this)
  • Conduct field walks before the trades run their penetrations to ensure the cells are filled if needed
  • Then hold everyone accountable


If all of this sounds like a lot, I have good news.  The easiest way to be sure you have it right, is to hire us to conduct a pre-construction meeting with your team.  We will help get your team on the right page with what is required before they start and we will make a few field walks with the team as the project starts and progresses to be sure we are there to support any issues you may encounter.


If you want to do it right, we are a great addition to the team. Past clients tell us they are stronger on future projects because of what they learned working with us.


We are like a concentrated dose of support. Concentrated- stronger and more impactful because we focus on what we know and we share that with your team.  Clients who have worked with us in the past tell us the look at firestop differently and they believe the life safety of their future projects will always be better because of what they learned when we worked together.  Give it a try and see for yourself!


Our next post will give you a few more things to think about on your hollow core project when we discuss block outs. After that we will also share a few ideas on how to remedy the problem if you are reading this too late in the game.


Please share this information with anyone you think can benefit from it and if we can support your project in any way, give us a shout!


Until then, thanks for taking the time to read through this today.

UL/FDNY Future Build Environment Forum

If you are interested in learning more about tall timber (likely going to be in the 2021 IBC for up to 18 stories), building envelope and fenestration systems, challenges in high rise buildings and tour of the NYPF fire academy then you may be interested in registering for this event.



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.

What are W ratings in firestop details?

Have you ever wondered what a W rating is when dealing with firestop. This is the first in a two part series that will help explain some of the things W ratings can and can’t do. Check out this blog post to learn more.

Firestop Nomenclature you might be getting Wrong

Thanks for joining us again for another video about firestop submittals. Today we are going to touch on a few more things that people often get wrong when pairing the field conditions with the paperwork.  Check out the video here and as always if you have any questions please reach out to us here.

Identifying the IMPORTANT information in your Firestop Submittal

We have another video for you today. I gave it a bad title because the reality is, all the information is important, it’s just that most people scan through and miss a lot of valuable information.

If you followed the series on shaft walls you may see where I am coming from.  You will have a better idea of what I mean once you see this new video. If you want more information on point contact and annular space you can check out this blog, or point contact, or defining a bead of sealant required at point contact.

Really, it is just the tip of the ice berg but we all have to start somewhere.  Check out the video here and let us know what you think or how we can help you here.