Owners Beware: Building Modifications Can Void a Component’s Fire Rating

Fire ratings are standardized measurements of how building elements would perform during a fire. These ratings determine the resistance of building components to smoke, heat, and flames while maintaining their structural integrity. Fire-rated assemblies create compartmentalization in a building, which lessens the risk of fire spreading.

Fire-proof walls, ceilings, doors, and windows have specific fire ratings assigned to them after laboratory tests and certification processes. During the controlled laboratory test, the components are exposed to standardized fire conditions to evaluate their performance when there is a fire.

The component must meet specific performance criteria like maintaining its structural integrity and effectively sealing or closing gaps. If the component meets the performance criteria in laboratory tests, it is certified and listed by relevant authorities.

Fire-rated components have instructions for proper installation process, operation, and maintenance. When installing fire-rated assemblies in a residential or commercial building, the NJ structural engineer and builders must strictly follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to preserve the assembly’s fire-resistant properties.

However, there are instances wherein property owners and managers want to make alterations and modifications to buildings to improve their functionality or appearance. While these are done with good intentions, these changes can unintentionally weaken the fire resistance of building components.

One of the changes that can affect the fire resistance of buildings is HVAC system modification.The ducts behind fire-rated walls usually have fire dampers that help prevent the spread of fire in the ventilation system. Any changes to these dampers or the HVAC layout can compromise a building’s fire safety system.

In some buildings, HVAC air handlers have smoke detectors that shut down fans in a fire emergency, preventing smoke from passing through the ductwork. When replacing any HVAC equipment, these components must be tested for proper functionality.

Property owners and managers should also consult a commercial building engineer NJ to prioritize fire prevention when making modifications that involve any penetrations. Communications and cable installations usually leave unseen holes in fire-rated assemblies. Consulting a professional can help owners plan building alterations that will not void fire-rated building components.

For more details about how building modifications can void a building component’s fire rating, here is an infographic by Lockatong Engineering.