What Insulation Contractors Need To Know About Fire Protection



As insulation experts, we know that businesses need to be protected from any number of physical risks — from moisture and corrosion to disasters such as fires. Journey with us as we take a closer look at the different types of fire protection, what goes into fire protection ratings and how to keep components and people safe with fire proofing insulation.

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Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

Fire protection is about more than just extinguishers or alarms, though both play vital roles. It’s actually divided into two groupings: active and passive fire protection. Each type of system performs a specific type of function.

Active Fire Protection 

Active fire protection is one category of fire protection system, unique in that it requires some sort of action to initiate the system if there’s a fire. Active fire protection includes both manual (e.g., fire extinguisher) and automatic (e.g., smoke detector) tools.

The active fire protection systems most folks think of are those designed to contain, suppress or extinguish a fire that has already started. But detection and alarm systems are just as important. When these systems are triggered by smoke or heat, they activate not only an audible alarm but also a signal to emergency responders and engage on-site protection such as sprinklers or aerosol fire suppression total flooding systems.

Passive Fire Protection 

In contrast to active systems, passive fire protection is not necessarily meant to prevent or stop a fire, but to protect people and limit the damage and downtime it causes. A passive fire protection system is made up of stationary, physical barriers to contain both fire and smoke.

We call these systems passive because of their inherent fire protection properties. Passive fire protection has the ability to enhance fire resistance in insulation systems. A few examples include: 

  • Tape
  • Sealant
  • Wrap
  • Caulk 

Firestop Certifications 

A firestop is a form of passive fire protection designed to slow fire and smoke spread and used to seal openings in fire-resistant floors and walls. These systems can detect and send alerts in case of fire.

Firestops are subject to a variety of certifications:

  • ASTM E814/UL 1479 evaluates a firestop under fire conditions to determine if it will gain firestop status. ASTM E814/UL 1479 includes two ratings: an F rating to measure fire exposure on the unexposed surface of the firestop and a T rating to measure the time it takes for the temperature of the non-fireside surface to increase over 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • CAN/ULC S115 is applicable to firestop systems with or without penetrating items such as cables, cable trays, conduits, ducts and pipes. Tests assess firestop performance under laboratory conditions, as well as against external forces, simulated by a hose stream.

Passive fire protection systems slow the spread of fire and smoke, keeping fire and smoke contained in certain spaces and allowing people to evacuate while minimizing the amount of damage. Additionally, it’s critical that doors, floors, and walls of buildings are fire resistant. 

Your Safety Plan Needs Both 

Active and passive fire protection systems perform different functions, but they’re equally important for your building’s safety plan. By taking active fire protection measures, you can quickly extinguish fires, and this works in concert with passive fire protection to prevent spreading. Keep your facilities and workers safe by installing systems to alert people and contain damage.

Breaking Down Fire Protection Rating

Fire rating is measured by either fire resistance or fire protection. Though the terms sound similar, they do have a few differences.

Fire Resistance and Fire Rating Hours

Fire barriers like walls, floors and doors must be able to handle direct contact with fire for a specified length of time. The ASTM E119 and ANSI/UL 263 measure fire resistance ratings in fire rating hours, or the number of hours an assembly can resist fire exposure relative to the standard time-temperature curve. Fire rating hours measure the performance of building elements during a fire.

Fire Protection

Any component that protects fire resistance-rated assemblies must be fire protection-rated. These components must withstand fire based on guidelines from standards such as NFPA 252, NFPA 257, ANSI/UL 9, ANSI UL10B, or ANSI/UL 10C. The acceptance criteria for these components differ from those evaluated by fire resistance standards.

The National Fire Protection Association highlights how to determine the required fire protection rating for your needs. 

The Importance of Proper Installation

It’s essential to protect yourself while installing insulation and fire protection systems in your building. We recommend both following OSHA guidelines and wearing appropriate equipment to mitigate risks.

OSHA Noise Guidelines

OSHA has outlined the risks of ongoing exposure to loud noise in industrial settings. Excessive noise — above 85 decibels over eight working hours — damages the inner ear and could lead to hearing loss. Reduce noise levels where possible during insulation install, and implement hearing conservation programs to protect workers. 

Protective Equipment

Installers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety equipment as the job demands. Masks and safety glasses protect workers from debris and upper respiratory issues. Worker safety needs to be a priority, and you can’t skimp on protective equipment for your team. 

Likewise, you should protect others after you have left the job. Limit airborne risks for yourself and colleagues, and take appropriate cleanup actions.

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Minimize Dust and Ventilate

Particles floating in the air can cause adverse reactions and make workers uncomfortable. During installation, aim to use tools that don’t generate much dust. Ideally, any necessary power tools should have dust collection capabilities. As equipment becomes dirty, wipe it off or use a HEPA vacuum for a thorough cleaning.

Dust collection systems can supplement your ventilation efforts. Air containing debris should be circulated and filtered to help maintain clean breathing conditions.

Protecting Others With Fireproofing 

In addition to keeping the work environment clear for yourself, you want to maintain a clean and safe workplace for others. First, be sure to clear scrap materials immediately to prevent unnecessary handling as well as injury. But don’t forget fireproofing and fire stopping! 

Fire stopping prevents fire spread between rooms, whereas fireproofing protects the building from deterioration or collapse. The insulation you install needs to be just as protected as your building. Fireproofing for insulation targets two things: steel, which can crack, and concrete, which can burst. 

When insulation is installed safely and properly, it can perform effectively for years. Make sure you’re on the right track by taking the right precautions and incorporating fireproofing components to keep workers safe and protect essential equipment.

Level Up Your Safety Measures With Distribution International

Figuring out how to best protect your workers, building and insulated components with active fire protection and passive fire protection can be complicated if you let it. But by mastering a few basics and best practices, you’ll be set. Want to compare fire safety and fireproofing insulation products and easily purchase them online? Join our members-only community, CustomerConnect

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