Slowing the Spread of Fire
The walls and insulation in your home does more than separate spaces, provide privacy, and keep the temperature regulated. Drywall, doors, and insulation are classified with a fire rating. The fire rating is the length of time a material is able to keep from becoming completely enflamed during a fire rating test. Most everything that can be used in interior applications undergoes a fire test rating to inform on the safety of the material in homes and businesses. The idea is that it will take time for these products to combust so that the fire will spread less quickly giving occupants time to exit the building and fire fighters the ability to extinguish the flame before it gets out of control.
The rating of the drywall will dictate the rating of the doors installed in your home. These two are fairly equal in length of time. Doors are rated by time and include 1 – 1-1/2 hours, 1-hour, ¾ hour, and 1/3 hour. If you live in a multi-unit building, the doors separating the units usually have a three-hour rating, while the walls have a four hour rating. One hour doors are installed in between rooms and in walls that are also one hour rated. Stairwells are separated with walls that are two-hour resistant, using 90 minute doors.
Each state has building code requirements, and many cities also have specific codes that also have to be adhered to. Building codes sets the requirement of what doors and wall types should be used in each type of application. The City of Chicago has specific code requirements for construction and electrical which pertain strictly to construction within the city’s limits. For example, within the city of Chicago, all electrical wiring must be run using metal conduit, while outside the city limits metal conduit is not a code requirement.
Insulation is not only for temperature regulation but a part of the fire separation between floors, especially in multi-unit applications. The most fire resistant insulation is cellulose insulation, which has a nearly 50% higher resistance to fire than its fiberglass counterparts. Cellulose is a denser insulation product and it sprayed into wall cavities allowing it to spread and fill in every crack and crevice. It is a non-toxic product that is comprised of 80% post-consumer paper waste and absorbs 90% of the sound traveling through walls. So in addition to having a fire rating that is twice the time a fiberglass, you will experience less sound transfer while enjoying lower heating and cooling bills. Spray foam insulation is an expensive product to use on the front it, so don’t be concerned with using fiberglass. Insulation will always perform its duty of protecting your home from the outside weather, as well as providing some fire separation between floors.
The biggest items in any house are the walls. Standard ½-inch drywall has a fire rating of 30 minutes. To increase the fire rating and sound barrier, contractors will use 5/8-inch drywall which increases the fire rating to one hour. This fire-code drywall is not only thicker, it has a denser core which contains fiberglass that prevents it from crumbling in the heat; remember fiberglass insulation. Fire-code drywall in more expensive that standard drywall, but if you wish to keep your rooms more quiet and provide a little extra time in the event of a fire, the expense is worth it.
All in all, fire protection begins and ends with education and awareness. But, none of these products will protect you from smoke, the main cause of death in fires. Smoke detectors actually save lives. This weekend marks daylight savings time – did you change the batteries on your smoke detectors? Do you have one on every level near bedrooms? These are the most important things you can do to ensure your family’s safety.
By Eugenia M. Orr