Building techniques have changed significantly over the years. Today, many constructions are based around engineered wood, which is much more lightweight than solid wood. It also burns much faster and can collapse in a matter of seconds. Older buildings may be constructed from slower burning materials but may have other issues that make them more vulnerable to the destruction that fire can wreak on a building. And then there is the furniture in buildings – this too can contribute to increasing the speed at which a fire does damage. All of these reasons add up to compartmentalisation being a necessity for every building of any age.
What is compartmentalisation?
Compartmentalisation is pretty simple and involves dividing the building into sections using various compartmentalisation techniques. The effect of those sections will be to block off each area from the rest of the building if a fire does break out. The idea is to keep the fire contained by preventing its spread – or at least slowing this down – so that anyone in the building has time to escape. Compartmentalisation can also result in less damage to the building from a fire and make the job of the emergency services much easier.
Which compartmentalisation techniques should you use?
There are three main compartmentalisation techniques to consider. You may find that one is ideal or you may want to use a combination of all three.
1. Smoke barriers
These are used to block and minimise the passage of smoke throughout the building. Smoke barriers are formed of a continuous membrane and they are very flexible in terms of design. They can be either vertical (for example like a wall or a door) or they may be horizontal like a ceiling. This type of compartmentalisation tends to be effective for around one hour when it comes to fire resistance. For that reason it is often used in combination with other compartmentalisation techniques.
2. Fire doors
Fire doors should be installed throughout the building in order to maximize escape routes and slow the spread of fire between different sections of the building by shutting off each different section. They should be checked to ensure that there are no voids beyond the recommended 3mm gaps around the edge of the doors, that they have 3 hinges to keep them in place, and that they have a self-closing device and hold open device that automatically releases in the event of a fire.
Fire doors should also have a range of features such as intumescent strips around the periphery and on glazed panels and ironmongery, as well as smoke seals to prevent the spread of smoke that may otherwise hinder the escape process.
3. Fire partitions
This kind of compartmentalisation is used internally, providing a way to divide up areas on a single floor instead of load-bearing walls. They are vertical and will normally have a one to two hour fire resistance rating.
Effective compartmentalisation will most likely involve a combination of all three of these techniques. It’s also important to remember that building maintenance will make a big difference in terms of how effective investment in compartmentalisation is. If there are gaps or holes in fire walls or smoke barriers, for example, they can be rendered totally ineffective.
Get in touch with Hillmoore Fire today for more information and advice for your building.