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Fire Safety Requirements for Building & Construction



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Building products are subject to a number of types of codes depending on their function and their use. These include building, residential, fire, life safety, electrical and mechanical codes, as well as the NFPA 90A, the air conditioning and ventilating system standard set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Each of these codes and standards also may include individual, product-specific fire safety requirements. The key building products that are often subject to these codes and standards include interior finishes (wall, ceiling and floor), insulation, siding, glazing, exterior veneers, decking, roofing, various combustible exterior products, firestops and fire-resistance rated assemblies.

Each of the various categories of building and construction codes has a specific focus. For example:

  • Building codes affect new construction (public occupancy buildings).
  • Residential codes are building codes for one- and two family residences.
  • Fire codes focus on the contents of both new and existing buildings from the point of view of property protection.
  • Life safety codes address the contents of both new and existing buildings from the point of view of saving lives.
  • Electrical codes reflect the requirements for electrical cables and electrical systems, including communications, power and emergency systems.
  • Mechanical codes set standards for mechanical systems intended for air circulation.

In the United States, there are two primary organizations that develop these kinds of codes: the International Code Council (ICC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). ICC has developed a full family of codes, including: the International Building Code, International Fire Code, International Mechanical Code, International Wildland Urban Interface Code, International Residential Code and International Existing Building Code. These have been adopted widely as regulations by towns and cities throughout the country.

The fire safety of interior finish (wall and ceiling linings) is tested primarily by using either the ASTM E84 test or the NFPA 286 room corner test, and they must meet flame spread (or heat release) and smoke release requirements. The codes determine which ASTM E84 class (A, B or C) is required for each application, and which materials can only be tested in accordance with the testing parameters set by NFPA 286. The ASTM E84 requirements are more stringent for materials that are installed in plenums (where the air distribution system is and where air ducts are connected to that system). Materials in plenums are usually tested to ASTM E84 but also are allowed to be tested to NFPA 286.

Insulation follows the same fire safety test method as interior finish: ASTM E84. Pipe and duct insulation must meet the requirements of ASTM E84 and be tested as a system as described in ASTM E84 and as required by NFPA 90A and the mechanical codes. If insulation is loose-fill, it usually must meet a variation of ASTM E84, namely CAN/ULC S102.2, where the material is spread along the floor of the tunnel. If the loose-fill insulation is cellulosic, it must meet smoldering test requirements (contained in 16 CFR 1209 and 16 CFR 1404) and smoke (but not flame spread) except that it must also comply with a radiant panel loose fill insulation test (ASTM E970). This also applies to cellulose insulation in residential attics. Insulation requirements are contained in building codes and in mechanical codes as well as in NFPA 90A (for ducts and plenums).

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