Fire safety is a leading concern when approaching the construction of a new building. It is a primary feature in modern-day building regulations, being an ever-present risk for active inhabitants of any indoor environment. The dangers of fire spreading, whether in commercial, industrial or domestic environments, are well-known – but in what ways are construction companies mitigating fire risk in future constructions?
There are two principal forms of fire protection to consider when it comes to overall building safety: active protection, and passive protection. Active protection describes the various methods by which a fire might be identified or signalled, escaped from and even halted entirely. Active protection provisions would include smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, emergency lighting and firefighting fixtures such as emergency hose reels.
Passive protection, meanwhile, describes the various approaches and designs by which the spread of a fire can be passively mitigated. This is achieved through shrewd decisions made during building planning and construction, and is the form of fire protection with which we are particularly concerned in this piece. What are some of the chief measures used to improve fire safety in contemporary constructions?
Fire doors are the most commonly found fire safety interventions today, being the standard for new buildings and incredibly easy to retrofit to older properties. Fire doors prevent the ingress of fire into a space by sealing any air gaps between the fire and the room in question.
Intumescent strips line the door, which expand when exposed to heat. This prevents smoke from entering the room, and forces the fire to work its way through the door instead of around – preventing its spread for a significant period of time.
Modern-day constructions make frequent use of fire-resistant materials in the framing and finishing of spaces. Treated timbers can be used to form stud walls with higher fire resistance than standard timber constructions; the plasterboard sheets with which stud walls are usually clad also have a level of fire resistance, being made of gypsum.
Brick and stone are naturally fire resistant, and can be used to great effect in shielding fire from spreading. However, there are some kinds of stone that are much less suitable for these purposes than others; granite, for example, is known to explode under specific heat conditions.
Fire compartmentation is the marriage of the above principles with building design, to create individual closed-off ‘compartments’ that limit the spread of fire from one side of a building to another. In domestic properties, this can be achieved simply by fire-proofing individual rooms. In commercial properties, fire escape routes are preserved through clever design that bounds them with compartments.
Compartmentation is a much more complicated endeavour than it may seem at first glance, though. Fire will spread quickly through the narrowest of openings, meaning that complete seals should be formed. For example, a wood-framed safety window above a fire door would render the fire door useless, as fire would spread through the flammable material above.