Structural Fire Separation in Buildings
A fire separation is a construction element that is designed to prevent the spread of fire between different areas or buildings. It can take the form of a wall, floor, or ceiling and is typically made of materials that are resistant to fire, such as concrete or steel. The purpose of a commercial fire separation is to create a barrier that will contain a fire and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the building or to adjacent buildings. This can help to protect lives and property and can also help to minimize damage in the event of a fire. Commercial fire separations may be required by building codes or other regulations to ensure the safety of building occupants and the general public.
National Construction Code
In Australia, the National Construction Code (NCC) sets out the minimum fire separation requirements for buildings. These requirements apply to new buildings as well as renovations and alterations to existing buildings.
The NCC is divided into two volumes: Volume One covers Class 1 and 10 buildings (including houses and apartments), and Volume Two covers Class 2 to 9 buildings (including commercial and industrial buildings).
In general, the NCC requires that walls, floors, and ceilings that separate buildings or parts of buildings must be constructed so as to provide a certain level of fire resistance. The required level of fire resistance is based on the use of the building and the type of construction.
For example, the NCC may require that walls separating dwellings from each other or from common areas must have a fire resistance rating of at least 1 hour. Floors separating dwellings from each other or from common areas must also have a fire resistance rating of at least 1 hour.
In addition to the requirements for fire resistance, the NCC also sets out requirements for the use of fire-resistant materials and the installation of fire protection systems, such as sprinkler systems and fire alarms.
It is important to note that the NCC is a minimum standard, and builders and designers may choose to exceed these requirements in order to provide additional protection against fire.
Methods to Protect Buildings from Fire
There are several methods that can be used to protect buildings with fire separation:
Firewalls: These are vertical barriers that are designed to prevent the spread of fire between buildings or within a building. They are typically made of concrete or masonry and are designed to have a high fire resistance rating.
Fire-resistant doors and windows: These doors and windows are designed to resist the spread of fire and smoke and can be used to seal off areas of a building in the event of a fire.
Fire sprinkler systems: These systems are designed to automatically detect and suppress fires by releasing water or other fire suppressant agents. They are often used in combination with other fire protection measures.
Smoke detectors and alarms: These devices are designed to detect the presence of smoke and alert building occupants in the event of a fire.
Fire extinguishers: These portable devices can be used to extinguish small fires before they spread. It is important to have a fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency.
Evacuation plan: Having a clear and well-communicated evacuation plan in place can help ensure that all building occupants are able to safely exit the building in the event of a fire.
It is important to note that the most effective way to protect a building from fire is to implement a combination of these measures. It is also important to regularly maintain and test all fire protection systems to ensure that they are functioning properly.
Types of Firewall Systems in Buildings
There are several ways to create firewalls in a building:
Concrete block walls: These walls are made of concrete blocks that are arranged in a grid pattern and are held together with mortar. Concrete block walls are very durable and have a high fire resistance rating, making them a good choice for use as firewalls.
Concrete walls: These walls are made of poured concrete and are often reinforced with steel rebar. Concrete walls are also very durable and have a high fire resistance rating.
Brick and masonry walls: These walls are made of brick, stone, or other masonry materials and are held together with mortar. Masonry walls are also very durable and have a high fire resistance rating.
Gypsum board walls: This is a common type of fire rated lining material that is made of gypsum. It is typically used to create walls and ceilings in buildings and is available in various thicknesses and fire resistance ratings. Gypsum board walls can be coated with fire-resistant materials to increase their fire resistance rating, so it's best to check supplier technical guidelines for fire rating certifications.
Fiberglass Wool: Fiberglass is a fire-resistant material that is made of strands of glass that are woven together, often forming a wool-like material . It can be used to create fire-resistant barriers and is often used in combination with other materials, including pipe and electrical insulation.
Intumescent coatings: These are coatings that are applied to surfaces and expand when exposed to heat, creating a protective barrier that helps to slow the spread of fire. Intumescent coatings are particularly useful for steel columns that are load bearing that need to be be fire rated.
It is important to note that firewalls should be designed and constructed to meet the specific requirements of the building and its intended use. This may involve using multiple layers of different materials or incorporating fire-resistant coatings or other features to increase the firewall's fire resistance rating.
Firewalls can involve creative solutions to combine approaches to fire rating a wall, depending on the specific requirements and constraints of the situation. Some potential options might include: using fire-resistant materials along with applying fire-resistant coating. Or adding fire stops for passive fire protection systems to seal off openings in walls, floors, and ceilings to prevent the spread of fire and smoke.
Installing fire sprinklers are also options to integrate into buildings, however these can be more expensive to install and maintain so most economical for larger buildings with extra redundancy to better control fires in emergency situations. While fire fighting is separate matter best to discuss with your civil engineer, hydraulic engineer or Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES).