Primary purposes of firestop installations include protecting the overall structure of a building and protecting the lives inside it.
Incorrectly installed firestopping products pose a challenge to both those objectives. Even though most installers know building requirements and codes well and can be highly skilled, mistakes can still be made.
Firestopping is a dynamic, changing field. The industry has gotten better at identifying the causes of building fires and developing ways to prevent them. As building codes become more stringent, proper firestopping becomes more essential to pass inspection and keep people safe. As the industry evolves, shouldn’t our firestopping products evolve as well, so that we can meet those regulations without sacrificing efficiency in application and inspection?
Traditional firestopping methods
Caulks and sprays — the industry standard up to this point — must be installed precisely according to a strict UL, Intertek or third-party tested and listed system. For example, if a system requires a 1/8-inch-thick caulk or spray depth, the installer must manually measure to achieve that exact thickness. Even the most skilled installer might not be 100% accurate all the time.
If the caulk or spray is too thick, the installer has wasted material and money, impacting overall profitability. Even worse, if it’s too thin, the firestopping application could fail during a building fire. Human error either way could have negative consequences of varying degrees.
Giving tape a try
A new method on the market is the use of tapes for firestopping in construction joints and through-penetration applications — and when you look at the benefits, tape may have advantages over traditional methods.
You might not think a simple piece of tape would protect against fire, water, smoke or sound, but these revolutionary products are remarkably effective.
Consider the challenge in meeting the required firestopping application thickness. Tapes provide consistent thickness and overlap throughout the whole application, no matter who installs it. No more worrying about under- or over-applying — just choose the right size for the project and get to work. No more wasted product, either — installers can buy exactly the amount of material needed, making it a cost-effective solution.
Because they’re portable and lightweight and require less equipment, tapes are easy to install. One roll of 8-inch by 75-foot tape is roughly equivalent to a five-gallon pail of spray applied at 1/8-inch-thick depth. Tape can be a lot more convenient to carry, allowing installers to move quickly from project to project and get more done during the workday.
With no set-up time, no sprayers to clean and less waste to dispose of, tapes are efficient in an industry where time is money.
The ability to install tape in hot or cold weather means contractors can work when they need to, rather than waiting for the weather to cooperate or building expensive tent systems to keep the project heated. In fact, two specific products, 3M Fire and Water Barrier Tape and 3M Smoke and Sound Tape, can be installed as cold as 0 degrees Fahrenheit or as hot as 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
As sustainability becomes more of a global focus, installers have to consider regulations that could affect the products they are using. Unlike standard wet coats, tapes have zero VOC emissions and release no noxious chemicals into the environment during application.
Adhesives perform in the field
Questioning the strength of adhesives is a valid concern — an installer wants to know that the product they’re using will work, and work well.
The adhesive in 3M’s firestopping tapes forms a strong bond to many common construction substrates, including aluminum, steel, concrete, glass OSB and plywood. It’s strong enough that installers can feel confident the firestop barrier they’ve created will hold successfully in a fire.
Adhesives or tapes can be challenging if extensive surface preparation is required in order to form a strong bond. 3M’s tapes don’t require surface preparation — as long as the surface is construction-clean and free of debris, these tapes won’t budge.
And what about rain? Because they adhere instantly, tapes resist water immediately — unlike sprays, which can wash off upon contact with rain and require dry/cure time as well.
Ensuring things are up to code
Firestopping applications should be inspected by either the authority having jurisdiction (government code/building official) or an unaffiliated third party, both of whom will check to make sure the firestop application has been installed correctly.
During this process, an inspector may conduct “destructive testing” by cutting into the firestop caulk or spray to measure thickness. This area must then be repaired, which means the installer has to redo previous work. Tape applications are easy to inspect and repair. Since the product is a consistent thickness throughout and is installed exactly as-is, there’s no question about the accuracy or depth of installation. To repair the damaged area, simply apply another piece of tape.
Ensuring that firestopping is installed correctly is crucial when lives are on the line. Installers, code officials, architects and — perhaps most importantly — a building’s inhabitants can rest easy knowing that when tape is used, the application is precise and will meet building safety codes and requirements.
Find out how firestopping and construction joint tapes can improve your process by visiting 3M.com/firestop-tape or contacting a 3M expert directly.