Devising a firestopping strategy that can help contain and control the spread of fire is an essential part of most construction projects and one that can greatly benefit from collaboration with specialist product manufacturers. In this feature we look at how specifiers can take a more active approach to passive fire protection.
Building safety relies on accurate product information. Without it, the risks of misguided specification or substitution, poor installation, inadequate classification and non-compliance are high. With no set rules on how products can be presented, how can specifiers and engineers ensure they are choosing the correct products for their project? How can manufacturers – especially manufacturers of fire safety solutions – better support them?
Product misinformation is a key challenge for specifiers of building products. If performance claims have been incorrectly stated or understood, it can jeopardise the performance of the building as a whole, making it more likely to fall short of its aims, and may lead to non-compliance with Building Regulations. At best, this will incur additional costs and time to rectify the issues. At worst, inappropriate product selection can severely compromise a building’s safety and longevity, with potentially devastating consequences.
One example of how this can happen is when manufacturers generalise product approvals across entire categories or ranges instead of defining exactly which products have been successfully tested to the relevant standard. For example, in the case of rainscreen facade cavity barriers, this could be specificity about the minimum and maximum voids that can be protected by each product, and comparing and contrasting the products’ integrity and insulation performance.
This is a common issue in countries and regions where there are less stringent or consistent standards and testing requirements in place. However, it’s not easy to recognise and it takes some knowledge of how these tests are carried out to understand where the performance values have come from, and which ones are to be used. This makes it increasingly difficult for specifiers to decipher performance claims accurately and understand how they apply to current and evolving regulations and standards.
Validating product information
Understanding how product performance is measured and how a product should work can make it easier to spot inconsistencies and ensure that the correct test standards have been used. Attending product-specific talks or CPDs is one way to develop this knowledge and keep up to date with any technical advancements. Any fire performance claims manufacturers make about products should also always be backed up with clear, up-to-date testing data and third-party certification, including details of involvement with any large-scale tests. This should be easy to find on their website or by request from their technical team.
Product knowledge can also be supported by independent, area-specific consultants. They can be hired to help check and confirm that any specification details are as accurate and reliable as possible. These consultants will have an in-depth knowledge of the product families, their requirements and how they are tested – whether it’s related to fire, acoustics, or other key building performance areas. Many manufacturers also offer technical design support and should be able to provide clear and honest guidance on which products would meet the requirements for a specific project.
Whilst there are steps specifiers can take to verify claims, the onus is of course on the people who produce the products not to mislead. There is a clear and urgent need for greater transparency in the construction product market. Whilst some have been championing this approach for decades, taking steps to ensure their product data files are as comprehensive and transparent as possible, there is much more work to be done to ensure this approach is replicated across businesses and the industry globally.
One of the ways this is being driven at scale in the UK is through the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI) that is due to launch later this year. Developed by the Construction Product Association’s (CPA) Marketing Integrity Group (MIG) following the fire at Grenfell Tower, the Code will provide a benchmark for how product information is created, presented and marketed by construction product manufacturers. It comprises 11 key clauses which have been designed to ensure product data is clear, accurate, up-to-date, accessible and unambiguous. This will allow everyone involved in specification and procurement to start from a level playing field, confident that the products they choose are not only suitable for the job in hand but have been subject to the appropriate tests and verifications.
Whilst this is a UK-focused scheme, its principles and approaches are clearly replicable across the world. All manufacturers, regardless of where they are selling their products, should not only be looking at the ways they verify and present their product data but how they can explain this process to specifiers, offering reassurance that their products will support them in creating safe and compliant buildings.
Think one step ahead
However, no matter how diligent the specification process is, product performance can be severely undermined by poor installation. Whilst the construction stage does not fall under a specifier’s remit, there are ways product specification can also help to support installers on site.
Technical services teams not only offer guidance on the best solutions for a project or to overcome an issue at the design stage but can also provide valuable support to construction teams too. Manufacturers that offer site services can help to ensure correct installation through training, assessment and auditing. This support can reduce the risk of contracting teams changing the specification to products they are more familiar with but which may not meet the project’s performance targets.
Proper auditing and reporting of installations can also help to ensure that the product information and any inspection reports are then passed on to the building owner or operator at completion, providing an accurate record of what has been installed on their building. This will be a useful reference point for any future modifications to the project that may affect the building envelope.
A safer future together
If we are going to ensure a safe, productive and beautiful global built environment, it is vital that specifiers have access to high-quality products which have been thoroughly tested and are supplied with clear and accurate information covering both installation and performance. Working with manufacturers who are evidently committed to standing by your side, sharing comprehensive product data and providing support at every stage of the construction process will help to ensure that projects are delivered accurately and are built to last.
For more information, go to www.siderise.com