5 Fire Safety Principles Every Architect in Texas Should Use

Going beyond basic fire safety com­pli­ance isn’t always a top priority in building design, but it should be.

According to the National Fire Pro­tec­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NFPA), there were over 1.3 million fires reported in the United States in 2016. Of those fires, 475,000 were structure fires, causing 2,950 deaths, 1,075 injuries and $933 million in property damage.

Con­struc­tion in Texas is estimated to grow by 10 percent in 2018. That is the highest projected increase in the United States. Following the latest trends in fire safety practices will ensure you include the right solutions in all your building designs. 

Several important fire safety codes and standards exist that will help you create safer struc­tures, and help your project avoid becoming a statistic. Let’s look at some of the most recent trends in fire safety, and how to apply them to your project planning.

1. Focus on Fire-Resistant Construction Design

Fire-resistant con­struc­tion is one of the largest growing con­struc­tion trends in Texas. It’s important to carefully choose a con­struc­tion design that’s proven to help in fire pre­ven­tion. As fire safety becomes a top priority, make sure your designs meet or exceed the NFPA codes and standards. This is espe­cial­ly true given the amounts of insu­la­tion that the new building and energy codes now require, which can increase fire risk for modern building projects.

Using a complete wall solution like the Bautex Wall System is one way to increase fire resis­tance in your building. Tested by ICC accred­it­ed third-party lab­o­ra­to­ries, this wall system has a 4‑hour load-bearing fire-resis­tance rating for added safety on all projects. This level of safety is achieved by combining cement and foam insu­la­tion into a light­weight, durable, insu­lat­ing and fire-resistant material that will not ignite when exposed to heat or direct flame.

Spec­i­fy­ing an inte­grat­ed wall system that provides structure, envelope, insu­la­tion and fire pro­tec­tion in one solution sim­pli­fies the design process and reduces the cost and time of con­struc­tion considerably.

2. Ensure Building Materials Pass Key Fire Safety Tests

Using building materials that have undergone extensive testing will also ensure you adhere to all fire safety codes with your con­struc­tion. When selecting materials, check to see if they comply with the following important codes and standards:

NFPA 286 Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Eval­u­at­ing Con­tri­bu­tion of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth: This test measures how quickly flames spread across building material and the amount of smoke that is produced when the product ignites. 

ASTM E84 Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Building Materials: This test measures surface burning char­ac­ter­is­tics of building materials. 

ASTM E119 Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Con­struc­tion and Materials: This test evaluates the duration of fire exposure that a building element can sustain while main­tain­ing struc­tur­al integrity.

An example of a material that earned high marks in these fire tests is the Bautex Block. Its composite cement-EPS for­mu­la­tion was highly effective in resisting the spread of flames and smoke in a simulated structure fire. The Bautex Block also earned the highest NFPA Class A and IBC Class A classifications.

3. Follow Strategies Outlined in the NFPA 101® Life Safety Code®

Knowing and under­stand­ing the NFPA 101® Life Safety Code® is another way to ensure you are meeting fire safety codes. This col­lec­tion of standards is known as the most popular source for fire pro­tec­tion strategies.

The Life Safety Code® details materials testing and con­struc­tion design, and it also focuses on addi­tion­al topics. It addresses fire safety standards related to evac­u­a­tion plans, sprin­klers, alarms, emergency lighting, smoke barriers, special hazard pro­tec­tion and much more.

Knowing your building con­struc­tion complies with these important codes is a good first step in enhancing fire safety. Another good start to ensuring com­pli­ance is using material that exhibits low heat release and tem­per­a­ture rise, and no flame spread. These char­ac­ter­is­tics meet the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code for both finished and unfin­ished walls.

4. Adhere to Energy Conservation Codes Without Increasing Fire Risk

The2015 IECC Energy Con­ser­va­tion Code has important impacts on the design and con­struc­tion of buildings in Texas. Meeting the require­ments of this code will greatly improve energy effi­cien­cy and per­for­mance, but there are some asso­ci­at­ed fire hazard risks.

If you’re using cavity con­struc­tion, the required layers of con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion can pose an increased risk of fire safety issues. One way to avoid these fire safety issues is using insulated concrete block.

The Bautex Wall System is an example of a single inte­grat­ed wall system. This system exceeds per­for­mance require­ments using only one addi­tion­al layer of insu­la­tion (in most climates). 

5. Understand General Fire Safety Awareness in Buildings

Always consider the fire-related hazards people may encounter inside buildings. Having basic knowledge of common fire risks will help you design with pre­ven­tion in mind.

Refer to this list of general fire safety rules to under­stand fire safety from the per­spec­tive of a building owner or occupant. Knowing the potential risks that can occur daily will help you plan more proactively.

As the amount of con­struc­tion increases in Texas, so does the risk of fire hazards. Showing a higher level of safety knowledge in each step of the design process will help ensure your designs have con­sid­ered all fire risks and are compliant with the right fire safety codes and standards.