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Fired Up Blog

Fire-Rated Glass and Framing Blog from TGP

Looking for a candid resource on all things fire-rated? Interact, discuss and gain new insights on trends, codes and design solutions for the fire-rated glass and framing industry.

Shattered School Safety: Is Bullet-resistant Glass the Answer?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, glass is at the forefront of many discussions to improve school safety. In some cases, offenders have used glazed areas as an entry point, begging the question: If schools used bullet-resistant glass, would students be safer? The answer is not so simple.  Bullet-resistant glass is relatively expensive and in some products the composite layers can be highly flammable. When manufacturers layer thermoplastic and polycarbonate between sheets of glass to help absorb a bullet’s energy, the downside is the combination of glass and plastic may generate tremendous amounts of flames and smoke during a fire, potentially causing further life injury and property damage. This wouldn’t be cause for great concern if school fires were rare. However, data show there are a large number of school fires annually (an average of 6,200 school structure fires between 2005 and 2009). Building and design professionals may be solving one problem with ballistic glazing, but are they creating another by reducing fire safety in schools? As Rod Van Buskirk quotes in a recent Glass magazine blog post about improving school security levels through glass: “complex problems require complex solutions.” It will take time to develop affordable designs that can improve security levels without compromising other areas of life safety. Each step forward is important. Access doors are often a first line of defense in schools, and it is imperative we address methods for bolstering the protection they provide. To address the issue of school safety, design and industry professionals across the country are working on solutions. Schools are exploring options from removing glass altogether to retroffiting schools with security glazing products that provide dual protection.  Currently available products such as Pilkington Pyrostop® fire-resistant glass and other glass firewalls are available with up to a Level III bullet resistance rating and two-hour fire ratings, without the flammability issues that may come from security glazing products in fire conditions. They can be combined with other glazing products to achieve nearly any level of security protection.  The protective glazing committee has also formed a task group to help lead the way on what a recent USGlass magazine article calls, “glass solutions to create safer schools.” Thom Zaremba, Glazing Code Committee consultant to GANA, notes the common denominator will likely be hardening the exterior envelope while still ensuring law enforcement officers have the ability to respond quickly to emergencies. What questions do you think the glass industry should be asking as our country works to address school safety?  

2013 Fire-rated Glass and Framing Forecast

According to McGraw Hill’s Construction Outlook 2013, the construction industry is starting to show small signs of recovery. The caveat in the report is the improvements are contingent on avoiding a recession early in the year. Jeff Dietrich, a senior analyst for ITR Economics, takes a more cautiously optimistic approach in a recent Glass Magazine article, noting “2013 will see changes in taxes, but the economy overall is relatively stable and still growing, albeit at a milder pace than many would like…” While it’s still premature to predict which way the global economy will teeter, we can be certain 2013 will be what the glazing industry makes of it. As Dietrich aptly states, “The world rebooted in 2008 for many industries, but did not die. Many are coming out stronger, wiser and more profitable than before. It can be done.” Since the best defense is offense, don’t expect the economy to damper glazing innovation in 2013. The year is likely to be full of product breakthroughs, including for fire-rated glass and framing, and I think many of them will be driven by the following trends. 1. Greater design flexibility Architects are no longer satisfied simply using fire-rated glass in individual windows, borrowed lites and small view panes in doors. Many want large, visually compatible glazed areas that extend from floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, and across multiple stories. System solutions—glass and frames designed to work together as a cohesive unit—can help fulfill this desire by achieving a higher level of performance without sacrificing aesthetics. 2. Improved integration Look for manufacturers to continue developing fire-rated frames that visually integrate with surrounding non-fire-rated assemblies. Advancements will include more finishing options, as well as enhancements to silicone-glazed (SG) fire-rated curtain walls. This is a trend we’re particularly excited about at TGP. 3. Increased lite size Since extensive areas of fire-rated glazing can help improve views between spaces and better maximize light penetration, manufacturers will continue to push the boundaries of glass lite size. This is timely, as daylighting strategies increasingly include fire-rated glass. 4. A clearer view Fire-rated glass with high optical quality is still in high demand since architects can install it in applications without altering the sophisticated look of modern designs. As such, expect to see the trend towards clearer fire-rated glazing remain strong in 2013. Just be sure to do your due diligence to ensure product claims prove true.  5. Improved fire and life safety performance Manufacturers seeking to stay ahead of the curve will continue to develop new technologies for improving their product’s fire and life safety performance. This most directly applies to fire-rated glass assemblies, which require the frame, glass, seals and other components to provide the same type of fire protection (e.g., fire resistance or fire protection) and carry the minimum fire rating as dictated by code.  What trends do you think will impact fire-rated glass and framing design in 2013 and beyond?  

Code Trade-offs: A Problem, Not a Solution

In 1984, the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry reprinted a letter to the editor of Dallas Morning News titled: “In Dallas, TX, the Move to Rely on Sprinklers for Fire Protection as an Acceptable ‘Trade Off’ Comes Under Question.” Nearly three decades later, this topic remains heavily debated: Are code trade-offs a solution or a problem? Let’s take a look at the trade-off that allows E-occupancies to have exit corridors with no fire rating when sprinklers are in place. The theory behind this allowance is shifting dollars from building compartmentation to sprinklers provides students and teachers with effective protection against fire. But taking into account the prevalence of school fires, the special challenges of emergencies in school environments, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics showing a one-in-ten failure rate for sprinklers, this trade-off is a cloaked risk. As the author of the 1984 letter to the editor said: “Trade-offs of life safety features are not justified for economic reasons if public welfare is a consideration…” To reverse this allowance, the GICC and Primary Fire Rated Glazing Manufacturers submitted proposal E121-12 during the 2012/2013 ICC code review cycle. Although the committee disapproved the proposal, proponents are now asking the membership to revisit and adopt E121-12 “as submitted.”  Here are a few reasons why proponents are imploring the adoption of this important code change proposal.    Committee conclusion for disapproval of change: Fire data show current school design has one of the best safety records for life and property. In fact, the data show: ·    There are a large number of school fires annually (an average of 6,260 structure fires between 2005 and 2009) ·    School structure fires have a significantly higher number of injuries per 1,000 fires than other non-residential occupancies ·    School fires cause millions of dollars in property damage every year ·    According to a 2010 NFPA report, sprinklers fail approximately 10 percent of the time So much it seems for “one of the best safety records”… Committee conclusion for disapproval of change: Adding fire-rated exit corridors would lead to a significant increase in cost without “sufficient justification.” However, the reality is a recent report from the SSOE Group debunks the committee’s ‘convenient’ cost myth used to justify their misguided decision. The architecture firm found that the cost of adding fire-rated exit corridors to sprinklered schools was less than 2 percent of the total building costs for the three schools in the study. These are real school designs from a leading architecture firm, not some outdated model from an inexperienced consultant. And when it comes down to it, isn’t the relatively small cost increment worth the improved protection for students and faculty? Committee conclusion for disapproval of change: “[t]he increase in cost would not just be walls, but would also include fire-rated doors, fire dampers, etc.” This statement suggests proponents presented data that only included the added costs of fire rating exit corridors. As one public commenter said, “The Committee misunderstood the data that was presented because it clearly included all costs necessary to completely fire rated the exit corridors of all three schools, including their walls, doors, windows, fire dampers, etc.” Ironic we require more passive fire protection features in some other structures like government buildings or offices then we do our schools. Considering our kids and the professionals who serve these facilities, perhaps the ICC committee should rethink their phrase ‘sufficient justification’ before they vote next time. 

Haven’t we Dodged Enough Fire Safety Bullets?

A professor of fire science said firefighters “really dodged a bullet” during the recent 1 World Trade Center work materials fire.  When the fire started, there was no water flowing through the building’s standpipe.  This forced firefighters to use a special pumper truck to supply water to fight the fire – a process that takes extra time in a situation where every minute counts.  Others debate whether there was even a bullet to dodge in the 1 World Trade Center fire.  Dry standpipes are common for under-construction buildings and, according to the Fire Department’s chief spokesperson, firefighters knew water wasn’t flowing through the system.  The on-duty team was able to follow protocol and successfully put out the fire, with only one firefighter sustaining minor injuries.  Do you hear echoes of the automatic sprinkler system versus passive materials argument in this debate? I do.  Automatic sprinkler systems, like standpipes, are effective at delivering water to a fire.  According to NFPA data, sprinklers have a performance rate of approximately 90 percent.   Now an A- in performance may sound appealing, but the flip side is that sprinklers do not perform one out of every ten times.  Since sprinkler failure largely results from human error, a good way to earn an A in fire and life safety protection is to include automatic sprinkler systems and fire-resistant materials.  Fire-resistant materials like gypsum, concrete and fire-rated glass act as a ready backup when sprinklers fail to perform or reach a fire’s area of origin.   Although it’s impossible to prevent fires from occurring, we in the building industry can do our part to implement the best fire protection plans possible.  So whether it’s effectively supplying water for high-rise construction projects, or using sprinklers in conjunction with fire-resistant materials, it’s crucial not to settle for almost good enough.  Haven’t we dodged enough fire and life safety bullets? 

Locked and Loaded: Is your company ready for action?

It could be the altitude, or it could be the approximately 28,000 people in the construction industry that lost their jobs last month, but I’ve spent a few too many hours on airplanes this June thinking about the state of the glazing industry.  On the one hand, the outlook is dismal.  The consistently slow construction market means many companies are still feeling the effects of growing unemployment claims, tight profit margins, higher healthcare costs and slow client pay. But not all is doom and gloom, as a recent Glass magazine article points out.  Fifty percent of the top 50 glazing companies in the publication’s special report said they’d experienced an increase in sales from 2010 to 2011.  This 50/50 sales success split is encouraging.  It provides proof that positive gains are possible for many, not just a few.  So, how do you become one of the successful?  How do you coax yourself to breathe new life into business in a down economic climate?  Here are my thoughts on five ways to take action:  1.      Innovate when business is slow.  No one likes it when the clock strikes five and they have little to show for their work.  But if you have extra hours in the day, use them to your advantage.  Companies that find the time to innovate and differentiate their product offerings will remain more competitive.   2.      Network and learn.  You may not be a social media buff, but you can still talk to people the old fashioned way.  Speak with glaziers, code officials and architects – anyone who is involved in your day-to-day processes – and find out what is and isn’t working.  New methods plus new relationships often equal new business.  3.      Shake it up. For a company or project to be truly successful, it takes the right mix of people in the right positions.  To improve and grow, that may mean some of the people in the mix need to shift their roles.  Don’t be afraid to find that perfect combination.  4.      Give rewards for accomplishments.  It’s been a long haul, but don’t lose sight of the importance of morale.  Simple rewards can go a long way to boosting employee outlook and job satisfaction.  If you’ve reached a goal – treat yourself.  My guess is you’ve earned it.    5.      Don’t compromise.  It’s true that we must “adapt or die.” Just don’t lose sight of your company’s integrity during the process.  Cutting corners to get new business almost always results in a net loss in the long-term.   What are you doing to ready your company for action?