September 25, 2018

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

The 2015 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.