How Good Is Glass When It Comes To Fire Protection?
Blending fire safety with comfort
Steve Bond, technical and customer support manager, fire products, at Pilkington United Kingdom Limited, explores how developments in fire-resistant glazing are not only keeping care home residents and staff safe but are enabling architects to create comfortable well-lit spaces.
As with any building, ensuring residents are protected in the event of a fire is a vital consideration for care home operators.
However, in an effort to minimise the risk of a fire spreading through a building, architects may be tempted to use less glass, which consequently prevents natural light to flow through rooms.
This was the issue facing NorseCare, Norfolk’s largest residential care home provider, when it invested £6.9million in a state-of-the-art specialist dementia facility for the county.
NorseCare wanted to ensure that both staff and those living at Lydia Eva Court would have as long as possible to safely vacate the premises should a fire break out, without compromising on creating a bright and airy interior.
NorseCare found a solution in Pilkington Pyrostop® fire-resistant windows, internal doors and glass partitions. Pilkington Pyrostop® is a fire-resistant glass which can remain intact for up to 180 minutes, for this application a minimum of 60 minutes was required, extending the crucial time needed for both staff and residents to exit during an emergency.
Achieving high protection and transparency with fire-resistant glazing
Fire-resistance has been a key focus for innovators in the glass industry for decades and has led to the development of products that provide robust protection against flames, smoke and heat.
Historically, Pilkington Pyroshield™ wired glass was predominantly used as fire-resistant glazing due to its ability to meet fire safety requirements while being relatively low cost. Although the glass still represents good value, it can limit the scope for clear lines of sight and bright, well-lit spaces.
Nowadays, fire-resistant glass is available with a high level of transparency. This means a floor-to-ceiling glass screen can effectively serve the same purpose as a brick wall, something that has had a significant impact on aesthetics and building design.
Glass can help builders and architects to comply with the regulations
Building regulations give guidance on the levels of fire resistance needed in certain applications, such as ensuring different areas of a building are separated by barriers to prevent the spread of a fire.
Care home facilities, in particular, are required to have a fire safety strategy in place. This strategy will consider factors such as ensuring there is a clear exit route that enables people to vacate the building without exposure to harmful gases and flames. Evacuation times also need consideration and these need to be matched with the correct specification of integrity and insulation fire-resistant glasses.
Glass is the ideal material in helping builders and architects comply with these regulations, without compromising on the building’s aesthetic appeal.
When fire breaks out
If installed as curtain walling, internal doors or fire screens, it is possible for fire-resistant glass to provide complete protection against heat transfer for up to three hours, depending on the specification of the fire-resistant product. Pilkington Pyrodur® and Pilkington Pyrostop® fire-resistant glazing works by sandwiching a layer of intumescent material (a substance that swells as a result of heat exposure) between two or more panes of glass. When it is heated, the intumescent material turns opaque and expands to form a barrier to hot gases and flames, and effective insulation from the heat of a blaze.
Turning opaque also blocks the view of the fire, which minimises panic amongst residents while acting as a guide for emergency services to indicate the presence of the fire.
It is designed to prevent break-out and movement of fire along, or up, the outside face of the building or across re-entrant corners. It also helps prevent fire transfer from one building to another, limiting risk to life and building damage while helping extend the time for residents to vacate safely.
Even floor-to-ceiling glass screens can provide this kind of protection so there is no longer any need to visually screen off areas to protect them in case of fire.
More basic systems offer less protection, in terms of insulation, but are able to maintain their transparency when exposed to fire, for example Pilkington Pyroclear®, these type of glasses highlight the areas of risk which helps people avoid these areas when evacuating the building. It can also aid the emergency services in finding a route through the building, providing them with a clear line of sight without having to expose themselves to potential danger.