There’s an age-old expression which has been gaining some extra mileage lately due to COVID-19. The adage, “Prevention is better than the cure” is a phrase that is usually used in reference to the precautions taken to minimise the impact and severity of a cold or other health-related concern.
When it comes to construction, the same expression can be used with equal meaning. In fact, Passive fire protection works on this premise – whatever can be done to minimise the severity of a fire should be done.
But what exactly does that mean you might be asking? In this piece, we delve deep into the BCA and construction in general, to help breakdown what you need to think about when considering your building fire rating, the fire rating requirements for buildings and why you should consider intumescents, bolt caps, and other passive protection materials. We will look to provide understanding around “Performance Requirements”, “Performance Solutions” and “Deemed to Satisfy” provisions.
Understanding the Building Code of Australia (BCA)
The Australian government requires that all buildings must follow the guidelines set by the Building Code of Australia or the BCA. This means that it must be constructed with the minimum necessary health and safety requirements.
Notwithstanding the fact the BCA changes regularly to accommodate developments in the construction industry and technology, these guidelines can be difficult to interpret at the best of time. In other words, if this is not something you are familiar with, it may be best to consult with an expert when planning a new construction or renovation project.
Fire Safety Performance Solutions
The BCA details specific Performance Requirements which include the minimum performance levels of buildings in terms of protection, covering such things as fire, drainage, and plumbing. The guidelines specify the requirements for building fire rating that must be achieved and a long list of approved construction materials, construction methods, and designs. In fact, failure to meet the criteria set out in these guidelines will result in your building failing to comply and thus failing to achieve relevant certification. However, there are three ways a project can comply.
- Implementation of a Performance Solution
- Use of a Deemed-to-Satisfy Solution
- Combination of 1 & 2
In an ideal world, buildings would comply with “Deemed to Satisfy” criteria: utilising ready-made building solutions prescribed by the BCA. However, the truth is, due to architectural vision and resulting designs, as often as not, a building will not use a Deemed to Satisfy Solution as it may limit a structure’s design flexibility. In this case, this is where the Performance Solution comes in as it allows innovative and more flexible designs.
A Performance Solution refers to the process where a building can be found to comply with the code – even if you do not utilise the step-by-step guide and list of materials set by the BCA – as long as your building’s performance can meet the set fire standards, and is certified by an independent and qualified third party.
Whichever route you decide to go for in your building compliance journey, it is important to work with professional assessment consultants. Not only can they save you time in determining the materials and methodologies which will help you achieve the optimal solution, but in doing so, they may save you significantly in terms of production cost. This is an area where the Permax team can assist you.
What Is Passive Fire Protection and Why It Is Required by the BCA?
To ensure that your construction project complies with the BCA regulations, especially as regards “fire-proofing”, passive fire protection (PFP) are not something that you can overlook.
To put it simply, passive fire protection is the epitome of “prevention is better than the cure” in the construction industry. Not only does passive fire protection help protect a structure from flame for longer, it minimises flame spread and, in doing so, gives occupants longer to get out and fire crews more time to get in and extinguish the flames.
Popular belief would have it that PFP is focussed solely on the protection of structural elements, but the truth is, it touches on a number of key areas.
Voids and Gaps
Wherever air can get through, the risk of fire spread is increased. As such, gaps, where a fire could spread, have to be eliminated. We are talking service penetrations, electrical cable racks, wall joints and similar. And whilst not technically considered PFP, smoke barriers and smoke alarms need to also be installed.
Structural engineers and builders need to consider open spaces too. Windows, doors, air ducts, and other building apertures should be made of materials that can withstand blazing flames. And glass components (such as the windows in doors) should be glazed with fire prevention in mind.
Passive Protection Materials
To have an effective passive fire protection system, a building needs to use components that meet the fire rating for building materials compliance guidelines set by the BCA. Here are construction materials you should look into.
- Intumescents – These are technologically advanced passive fire protection materials. They come in different sizes, shapes, and thickness and can be manufactured into a wide variety of fire-stopping components including paints and fire-stopping boards.
Not only are intumescents great for passitve fire rating, but they are also cost-effective construction materials. They can be fashioned into boards, grilles, and other gap stops.
Today, intumescents for steel, timber and concrete are becoming readily available.
- Bolt Caps – For any bolted component in a building, bolt caps should be considered to ensure optimal compliance. These are made from polymeric resin and are designed with fire-resistant pigmentation. They are essential passive protection, especially for jet fire, hydrocarbon, and cellulosic accidents. Installing bolt caps will help a structure comply with the building fire rating requirements set by the BCA.
- Other passive protection materials – These include endothermic materials, such as cementitious products and gypsum-based plasters. For insulation and cladding, mineral wool products are ideal. Utilizing concrete products will also help with fire rating.
Ready to get protected?
Ultimately, prevention is better than the cure. To make sure that a building is protected from fire and fully compliant, you should speak to the Permax team of professionals. With three Fire-engineers on staff, we can help you understand the BCA’s fire rating requirements for buildings and give you advise on what materials to use to achieve your optimal solution.
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Permax constantly update the documentations based on the new fire testing outcomes and change of standards and regulations. To ensure the documents you read are up-to-date, please contact the Permax technical team.