The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire threw the spotlight on the use of combustible materials in building cladding. But it also threw the spotlight on the need for adequate compartmentation to stop the rapid spread of a building fire. This article will look at what a fire compartment wall does and how you can use compartmentation in your building for enhanced fire safety.
What is a Fire Compartment Wall, and Why Is It Important?
The spread of fire in a building can be contained by creating discreet fire compartments. Each compartment is separated by a fire-resisting wall built from solid brick or block, hindering the spread.
It’s evident that fire compartment walls have a significant role to play in building safety. Without them, a fire can quickly spread out of control, posing a threat to life and destroying property.
In addition, fire compartmentation is invaluable in protecting vital escape routes. Finally, it can be used to support fire evacuation strategies, for example, in a block of flats where each flat has its own fire compartment.
How Does a Fire Compartment Wall Work?
So what does fire compartmentation actually achieve? To start with, let’s take a more in-depth look at how a fire compartment works.
Fire compartmentation works to prevent fire from spreading rapidly throughout a building, trapping the occupants and destroying the fabric of the property. Smoke is a silent killer, and it travels fast. Compartmentation can help slow its spread, keeping occupants safe as the fire services get everything under control.
A fire compartment wall cuts off airflow to the fire, slowing its growth. In addition, by breaking the building into smaller sections, fire services can work to seal off unaffected areas from damage. They can then act faster to bring the blaze under control.
Achieving Fire Compartmentation in a Building
According to the government’s Approved Document B covering fire safety, fire compartmentation is achieved by constructing walls and floors with between 30-120 minutes of fire resistance. Fire resistance is the measure of how long a floor, wall or fire door will:
- Resist damage when directly exposed to flames
- Insulate against heat transfer
- Create a barrier before collapsing
Ideally, fire compartmentation will:
- Reduce the chances of a fire endangering neighbouring occupants and the fire service
- Limit damage to the building and contents
A compartment can be a room, space or even a separate storey that acts as a fire break to prevent the spread from one part of a building to another. These compartments are separated by walls that run the full height of the fire compartment in the vertical plane.
The design of the compartment will depend on several factors, including:
- The use and size of the building
- Building height
- The fire load of the building
- The availability of a sprinkler system
Requirements For Fire Compartment Walls
Fire compartment walls and floors should form a complete barrier between each compartment. In addition, any fire door or other opening should provide at least 30 minutes of fire resistance, according to the HSE Fire Safety in Construction guidelines.
Any joints between these fire separating elements will need to be adequately fire-stopped to maintain resistance across walls and floors.
Any openings passing through your fire compartments (including those for joists, timber beams, rafters, ducts, conduits, pipes and cables)should be kept to a practical minimum. These openings will also need to be fire-stopped using approved methods, including fire collars, sealants and filler strips. These should meet the relevant EN and BS standards.
Any shafts in a building can act to pull smoke up between the floors unless there’s a barrier to stop the airflow. Therefore, spaces connecting fire compartments — including service shafts, ducts and stairwells — should resist fire for at least 30 minutes.
Approved Document B and its amendments outline the Building Regulations that cover fire safety in and around buildings in England.
Incorporating Compartmentation in Design
It’s essential that you put appropriate fire protection solutions in place to protect your business. For example, compartmentation using firewalls and floors is easier to achieve in complex multi-storey or multi-use buildings than in an open-plan office.
Other factors to keep in mind when designing fire compartments include:
- You should seal each floor off with a fire compartment in residential flats located on top of retail premises.
- The walls between two or more buildings should be compartment walls.
- If a compartment is located on the top storey, the fire walls must continue through the roof.
- Walls separating terraced and semi-detached houses must be compartment walls.
- Attached garages should be separated from a building by a compartment fire wall.
Protecting your building with JNR
Fire protection in London is a necessity, not a luxury. At JNR, we offer a range of fire stopping solutions across the UK for your peace of mind. So get in touch today for fire protection in Manchester, Birmingham and a range of other locations.