One of steel’s defining characteristics is its reduced flammability, especially when compared to other popular building materials, such as wood and vinyl. What’s important to note about steel is that “reduced flammability” doesn’t mean it’s completely immune to fire.
Although more resistant to fire, steel can still sustain heat damage, and once it does, the consequences can be disastrous. Steel loses about 50 percent of its ability to bear weight once temperatures reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Once structural integrity is compromised, there’s a much greater likelihood of severe damage or even a total collapse. Hence, it’s important to take the proper steps to fireproof any steel building, especially those that are part of industrial businesses where the risk of fire and dangerously high temperatures are increased.
Here’s a look at some of the ways to effectively fireproof a steel building:
Fireproofing a Steel Building:
Plan from the Start
To effectively fireproof a steel building, start at the beginning of a structure’s lifecycle. That may not always be feasible, but if you emphasize fireproofing from the very beginning of construction, you can greatly reduce the building’s chances of structural damage if a fire breaks out after it’s built. International Building Code mandates that structural frames are able to withstand a full two hours of fire-like temperatures. Building codes also often designate different types of fire safety measures, such as sprinkler systems, that facilities must install. As an added measure, consider spraying the building’s roof and floors with fire-resistant coatings to maximize fireproofing.
What’s important to note about fireproofing during the construction stage is that codes vary based on the size of the building and its intended use, so one type of steel structure may not require the same safety measures as another.
Fireproof Coatings and Insulation
As we mentioned in the above section, one way to fireproof a steel building is to spray fire-resistant coatings on the roof, walls and floors. Any type of coating used for fireproofing should qualify to protect metal at a critical temperature around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a tad lower than the 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit at which steel loses its structural integrity. Some of the coatings and insulation that can achieve this include:
- Intumescent spray film: One of the appealing characteristics about this type of coating is that after it dries, it can be painted to blend with the building’s interior or exterior. Intumescent spray film coatings are epoxy-like substances that contain hydrates. If a fire were to break out, the coating would swell and char, releasing the hydrates to cool the surface. The charring would also help reduce surface conductivity to prevent the fire from spreading.
- Endothermic: By definition, “endothermic” is a reaction or process that is accompanied by, or requires the absorption of heat. Endothermic coatings in this sense would include mineral wool and ceramic fibers mixed in with building materials, such as gypsum, resin or concrete to provide fire-resistant properties on steel building structures.
- Mineral: This type of insulation is ideal for environments with a lot of foot traffic because it’s able to withstand wear and tear better than other coatings and insulation materials on this list. Mineral insulation is similar to standard building insulation blankets. It is effective in blazing temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Since these blankets can be encased in wire mesh, they’re best utilized in areas of the building that aren’t in plain sight, such as boiler rooms and utility areas. Mineral blankets are also typically much more affordable than other types of insulating materials.
Keep in mind that coatings may need to be re-applied over time. Whether you go the coatings or insulation route, it’s always best to consult a professional for advice or to complete the installation. Routine maintenance can be completed via regular inspection, especially in hard-to-reach areas. On-site testing can also help determine the effectiveness of such fireproofing efforts.
Other Fire Safety Suggestions
Although taking the proper fireproofing precautions during the construction phase, as well as outfitting a steel building with fire-resistant coatings and insulation can greatly reduce the risk of a fire breaking out and spreading in a facility, such measures cannot guarantee that a fire won’t ever occur. If a fire ignites, the people that are inside the facility obviously take precedence over the facility itself. That’s why it’s important to ensure that a steel building is not only fireproofed, but also has proper safety measures in place for handling fire emergencies. Here’s a look at some fire safety requirements and suggestions:
- Doors should be installed so that they open in the direction of a person’s travel, especially in highly trafficked areas. In the event of a fire, people need to evacuate the facility as quickly as possible. If they have to pull doors toward them, it not only makes evacuation less efficient, but it can also potentially constrict individuals in doorways. Improper doors can unnecessarily worsen an already dangerous situation. If you believe your steel facility may have an issue in this area, contact your local locksmith or associated professional to have it corrected immediately.
- Safety measures: Steel buildings should be equipped with overhead sprinkler systems, fire alarms and fire extinguishers. Sprinkler systems and extinguishers help control flames until firefighters arrive, whereas fire alarms help alert occupants of a potentially dangerous issue. Building codes often require facilities to have emergency exits and maps accessible throughout the facility to notify occupants where to go in the event of an emergency.
- Escape routes: These should be short and manageable to easily direct building occupants to a place where they’ll be safe from a potential blaze. Analyze your facility’s escape routes to make sure occupants will have no issue getting to safety if the unthinkable were to happen.
As with any safety program, facilities should familiarize employees and occupants on proper fire protocol and hold fire drills to prepare everyone to quickly get to safety if there’s an
emergency situation on the premises.
As noted above, if you’re under the impression that a steel building cannot be damaged by fire, you may need to think again. Yes, steel is more resistant to fire than other building materials, but it’s certainly not immune to it. That’s why it is so important to take fireproofing in steel buildings seriously. Failure to do so could bring about dire consequences. To review, fireproofing should begin during the construction phase, at the start of a building’s lifecycle. It should continue with the initial and regular re-application of fire-resistant coatings and insulation. Fireproofing should encompass virtually all aspects of the building, from the walls to the roof to the floors. Make sure that your facility is taking all of the proper precautions to ensure that it is as safe as it can be from structural damage or collapse in the event of a fire.
For more information, go to www.dkiservices.com/fire-and-smoke-restoration