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As seen on AIA KnowledgeNet, Summer 2008

A Lesson In Code Changes: Options for Fire-Rated Glazing to Meet New IBC Requirements

By Jeff Razwick

In 2006, the International Code Council (ICC) adopted revisions to the fire-rated glazing requirements of the International Building Code (IBC) that have a substantial effect on the types of materials suited for life and property safety. As more jurisdictions adopt the revised code – including populous states such as New York (August 1, 2007) and California (January 1, 2008) – more design professionals will need to be aware of the changes.

The new code requirements specifically eliminate the use of traditional polished wired glass in hazardous locations where it is susceptible to impact and breakage, such as doors, sidelites and windows near the floor. Now, fire-rated glass in these locations must also be impact safety rated to meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Safety Standard for Architectural Glazing Materials (U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Part 1201). Prior to the 2006 code, wired glass was restricted in the 2003 IBC from hazardous locations in schools, athletic facilities and daycares. Now the restriction has extended to include hazardous locations in all types of buildings.

As a result, many architects and designers are looking for ways to comply with the updated codes, while still being able to use glass as a design option. Fortunately, there are a number of specialized glazing materials that provide superior fire and impact protection, as well as aesthetic advantages of being clear and wireless.

Alternatives to Traditional Wired Glass

Two readily available types of products that expand design options using fire-rated glazing are ceramic glass and transparent wall panels.

With advanced manufacturing techniques, sheets of ceramic can now be produced that offer the look of ordinary window glass, while providing fire ratings up to three hours in doors and up to 90 minutes in other applications. These materials, such as the FireLite® family of products, can withstand the high temperatures of a fire without breaking (and FireLite is available that meets safety glazing requirements of the new codes). Fire-rated ceramic glass can be beveled, etched or sandblasted without affecting the fire rating.

Ceramic glass can also be incorporated into insulated glass units (IGUs) in conjunction with many types of tempered or float glass, including tinted, low-emissivity, and mirrored. Such IGUs not only provide fire protection, but can also help with a building’s energy efficiency.

Another key product advancement is the introduction of transparent wall panels. These products are tested to the same standards as solid walls, with fire ratings up to two hours. In addition to stopping flames and smoke, transparent wall panels, such as Pilkington Pyrostop®, block the transfer of radiant and conductive heat. This makes them well-suited for use in a range of applications, including retail, museums, schools and other commercial and public buildings. Transparent wall panels can be installed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, and include glass doors, enabling architects to divide spaces without the use of solid walls that diminish visibility, security and light.

To ensure adequate fire protection, the selected framing should carry a fire rating equivalent to the glazing. Modern fire-rated framing can support large glass panels and is available in sleek profiles with narrow sightlines, unlike the bulky wrap-around frames of the past.

Whichever type of fire-rated glazing is specified, be sure that it has passed all testing requirements. Fire-rated glazing must pass a fire test, as well as a hose stream test, which involves subjecting a hot glass and framing assembly to the impact, erosion, and cooling effects of water. The hose stream test provides a method for evaluating the integrity of materials and constructions, and eliminates inadequate materials.

Architects and specifiers should check product listings and labels carefully to ensure that products they specify meet the hose stream test, and other testing requirements. Labels from respected test laboratories, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), will make this clear. Any footnotes or exceptions stating that a material does not meet all tests, or that require special approvals, should be eyed with caution in order to avoid unnecessary risks and liability.

Role of Fire-Rated Glazing in Overall Building Protection

With the rise of fire detection and suppression systems, some design professionals may wonder about the continuing role for fire-rated materials, including fire-rated glazing.

Most fire detection and suppression devices are active systems requiring a number of steps to occur for them to trigger. Human error in installation or maintenance, interrupted power and water supplies and even paint can interfere with their performance. While systems such as automatic sprinklers have saved countless lives and are a critical component in fire safety, reliance on active systems alone for fire protection may create unnecessary risk for occupants and building owners.

Dividing buildings into compartments provides a passive back up that supplements active systems. Fire-rated building materials such as gypsum, concrete, firestop sealants, fire dampers and fire-rated glass divide a building into contained spaces that can slow or stop a fire from spreading. By blocking flames, compartmentation materials provide time for occupants to exit the building, and for firefighters to arrive.

Great advances have been made in fire-rated glazing materials – moving well beyond traditional wired glass – making them a powerful ally in efforts to provide life and property safety while still meeting modern design aesthetics.

Jeff Razwick is the Vice President of Business Development for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a Snoqualmie, Washington-based supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, along with specialty architectural glass products. www.fireglass.com, 800-426-0279

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