No building is fire-proof.
It is a sad truth, but it’s something that we should work on to ensure that we have enough protection when a fire breaks out.
Aside from installing fire protection systems (which comes after the building has been constructed), it is better to start thinking about fire prevention during the design and construction phase of the building.
It’s not a question of whether a fire can damage your building, but a question of when. The type of materials used during construction affects the combustibility of the building and dictates how long (or how slow) before the building burns down. It takes longer for fire-resistant materials to burn so when used in construction of building, the fire won’t spread easily, giving people more time to evacuate the place.
In the last Grenfell Tower fire in London, investigations showed that the cladding used during the tower’s recent renovation did not meet the requirements for building safety regulations. Both the cladding and insulation materials used outside of the building failed all preliminary test conducted by the investigators, and the proposed zinc cladding was replaced with an aluminium version which is cheaper but less fire-resistant.
The aluminium cladding created cavities and caused a chimney effect during the fire, which escalated the fire quickly and made it difficult for rescuers to control the fire.
This illustrates how important it is that builders use fire-resistant materials during building construction or renovation. Construction materials are usually rated according to their ability to withstand fire. These are some of the fire-retardant materials that builders can use during construction:
Fire-resistant glass windows
Windows are important because they dictate the amount of light that comes in and affects the visibility inside the structure. However, a glass window can be a fire hazard. It can easily break with extreme heat and allow flames to enter once it’s broken.
Installing fire-resistant windows can help protect your home fire and prevent fire from spreading quickly to other areas. It takes double the time to break a dual-paned fire-resistant window compared to the ordinary ones because they have two layers of glass. Dual-paned glass windows are also energy-efficient. Tempered glass, on the other hand, is our time stronger than regular glass.
Steel framing should also be considered. Steel offers the best fire protection, followed by wood, aluminium and vinyl.
Concrete is one of the commonly used building materials that is non-combustible and has low thermal conductivity. It takes a long time for fire to damage concrete because of its strong structural load-bearing ability. However, not all concrete is created equal. Concrete is made up of cement and aggregate, and the type of aggregates used affects the performance of concrete. Some aggregates contain moisture and expand when heated, causing concrete to sinter after being exposed to heat or fire for a long time.
Bricks are made in a fire kiln, making them highly resistant to fire. They are one of the most effective fire-resistant building materials for construction. Depending on the thickness and construction, a brick wall can achieve a 1-hour to 4-hour resistance rating. However, brick is more expensive and heavier compared to other materials.