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Copyright International Fire Protection 2016
When an opening is created in a fire-rated wall, door or floor-ceiling assembly, a “through-penetration” application is required.

Proactively stopping fire with foam

A fire in a building can be tragic. Even without lives lost, victims may still suffer lost property and sense of security. Also, there is the financial burden and inconvenience that a fire can cause. Protecting from loss critical, which is why the passive fire protection industry is continually working tirelessly to make fast, easy and accessible firestopping solutions.

With this constant drive for faster and easier to install fire prevention methods, it’s important to ensure that solutions will not sacrifice the protection provided by a properly installed fire rated system.

As the construction industry evolves and applications grow in size and complexity, firestopping solutions must simultaneously transform to accommodate new trends while still effectively guarding against fire damage – always with an eye toward minimizing construction challenges.

Offering such solutions to contractors ensures that fire protection will remain a priority in future construction.

Proactive fire prevention

In addition to building a strong, functional framework for a structure, a critical part of a contractor’s job is to follow the applicable building code and make sure buildings are properly and proactively constructed to withstand a typical fire.

Firestopping solutions are an integral part of a balanced, well-designed fire protection system. Just as it is critical to have firefighting technology that will effectively put out flames and smoke from an existing fire, it is equally important to have effective firestopping technology that will contain a fire, preventing further damage to the rest of the building.

New construction methods call for updated firestopping solutions, which is why companies like 3M continue to improve on established solutions to keep life safety as the primary motivation for innovation.

Foam firestopping technology

Pre-formed blocks and plugs, as well as other forms including pillows, composite sheets or boards have been used in the fire protection industry for years. These items offer quick, simple solutions for firestopping, especially for construction where large utility openings exist.

Traditionally, most firestop block products require additional support, such as a wire mesh, to stay firmly in place in a fire scenario.

3M’s foam block products do not require this additional support from wire mesh or any other support method. 3M has specifically formulated and tested the products to ensure they were able to withstand the ASTM E814 fire and hose stream test without the need of wire mesh or other support.

Wire mesh installation is inconvenient for a number of reasons, including the supply of additional material as well as the required installation tools. Wire mesh installation is an added step in a firestop installation, which increases the time and labor costs associated with completing the job. Eliminating the need for wire mesh and other additional supports saves time and money.

The foam application maintains the integrity of the wall, while still providing a tight seal to protect the infrastructure. Foam can also be easily cut with simple tools to fit any needed size. This makes foam products a simple and cost-effective solution for both small and large complex openings in floor or wall through-penetrations.

Properly firestopping “through-penetration” applications is required whenever an opening is created in a fire-rated wall, floor, or floor-ceiling assembly. The opening is typically designed to allow for piping, cables, cable trays or ductwork to pass through. Since all buildings are designed differently, foam blocks, planks and plugs can be a versatile solution that can accommodate varying designs.

Foam products offer flexibility and easy re-entry, which can be a time saver when it comes to retrofit installations that might require recabling or other extensive re-work. The flexibility and re-entry aspects also make foam an excellent and efficient solution for firestopping large and complex through-penetration applications.

3M’s Fire Barrier Blocks, Planks and Plugs maintain a tight barrier against fire, smoke and noxious gases.

3M’s Fire Barrier Blocks, Planks and Plugs maintain a tight barrier against fire, smoke and noxious gases.

Foam versus the alternatives

Alternative firestopping solutions might vary depending on the size of the opening. Pillows, composite sheets or mortar would be ideal for medium to large openings, and sealants or caulks would be more geared toward small openings.

Foam blocks can offer a tighter seal against air leakage than pillows, which is important when an L-rating is required. Foam blocks are also easy to resize by simply cutting to fit, whereas pillows need to be cut and then taped over or resealed before installation.

Since the foam can be cut to fit a broad spectrum of different opening sizes in fire rated construction, contractors can standardize the type of material they use across all openings. This eliminates the need to purchase different materials to accommodate different opening sizes. The foam blocks are easy to cut with a simple serrated knife, and once cut to size are immediately ready for installation. It’s as simple as stack, seal, and done.

Composite sheets or mortar are both effective firestop solutions but they also pose their own set of problems. In some cases where penetrants need to be removed from or added to a through penetration that is firestopped with composite sheets or mortar, the product would need to be completely removed and reinstalled.

With foam blocks and planks, the individual blocks can be removed and replaced as needed, or cut out from the assembly with a knife. Some caulks and sealants can become very hard when they cure or dry, which makes removal for retrofitting more of a challenge.

Firestop solutions that take a lot of time to install, such as composite sheet, will cost more due in part to the additional labor. This is because composites are faced with sheet metal, which requires a skilled sheet metal cutter to precisely fit it around penetrants properly in a through penetration scenario.

The easy sizing and installation of foam products often make them a more effective and efficient choice for contractors who want to reduce labor costs and time spent on installation, but still want to ensure they are doing their due diligence in ensuring the building is protected against fire.

The potential for a laborer to cut corners and try to complete work faster allows for the possibility of mistakes during installation. A simpler solution that doesn’t require as much precision will help to eliminate those errors.

Filling an opening, however, does not guarantee that product will provide the required protection. When selecting a firestop method, it’s crucial to ensure that the product manufacturer has thoroughly tested the product. It is a best practice to research the products and manufacturers to make sure the products are proven to be effective in a fire scenario, and qualify for the full rating of a fire-rated assembly.

Protecting lives

Building fires can be devastating tragedies causing damage and even fatalities in certain cases. No matter what type of structure you are building or renovating, an integrated fire safety approach with updated and effective firestopping technology is required.

Foam preventative firestopping products are flexible for all opening sizes, making them an efficient and cost effective way to stop the damaging effects of fire and smoke before they can even start.

For more information, go to www.3M.com/firestop

Paul Fannin received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of MN – Twin Cities. He has worked in various roles at 3M, including a technical aide in the Corporate Research Lab, a laboratory technician in the Adhesive Sealants Lab of the Industrial Adhesives and Tapes Division, and has been a Technical Service Engineer in Fire Protection Products since December of 2014.

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