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Fire Protection: Why fire rated solutions are important

12 July 2019

Paul Davidson, Global Training and Project Services Manager, discusses the importance of fire rating regulations and finding the right solution for your project…

When faced with a fire in your building, the natural response is to try and get as many people out safely, by any means necessary.

In an ideal world, it would be great if as much of the building could be saved as possible, especially when you consider the costs of rebuilding or refurbishing the site. However, the reality is that the safe evacuation of a building's occupants is critical, and takes priority over money.

So what requirements need to be considered during a construction project to make a safe evacuation possible? Put simply, the answer is fire barriers. These are placed in a building to section it off into different ‘compartments’ - this means that when a fire breaks out, it should be contained in the compartment in which it started, allowing everyone enough time to safely evacuate.

Fire barriers take the form of walls, floors and ceilings; these are implemented as part of the construction process. In the case of ceilings, the overall height of the building has to be taken into consideration as this determines the level of protection required. The standard ratings are 30/60/90 minutes. A protection rating of 120 minutes is used in the construction of high-rise buildings or tower blocks, where concrete is typically the building material of choice. It’s the floors rather than the ceilings in this case that act as a horizontal fire barrier.

The issue comes when installing recessed lights into a fire rated ceiling, which are normally found in houses or newer high rises. It is widely acknowledged that cutting a hole into a ceiling to install a recessed downlight compromises its fire integrity. Electrical equipment, including recessed downlights have shown to have a direct impact on the spread of fire through a building. The fitting of recessed downlights has been identified as an area for concern in regulations due to the removal of part of the fire barrier between spaces during installation. As a result, UK legislation and regulations state that during the process of installing recessed downlights, the integrity of the fire barrier must be restored by ensuring that the luminaire has the appropriate fire rating.

Cue the fire rated downlight. This life-saving luminaire is specifically designed with fire barriers in mind. From the steel can that can withstand the extremely high temperatures experienced in a fire, through to the intumescent material which expands when heated, sealing up any ventilation holes in the fitting, the construction of fire-rated luminaires prevents the fire from spreading through a fixture into the roof space across a fire barrier.

When it comes to ceiling fire barriers inside buildings, the construction of the ceilings themselves will vary depending on their application to achieve the compliance required as per legislation.

However, facilities managers, architects and project managers have to consider more than just putting in a Fire Rated Downlight and hoping for the best…

Residential properties must have a minimum period of resistance, which depends on the height of the top floor and depths of any basement below ground level. For above ground installations, minimum fire rating can range from 30 minutes to 120 minutes protection whilst below ground level applications will have either 60 or 90 minutes of protection.

The National House Building Council (NHBC), the UK’s leading warranty and insurance provider for UK house-building for new homes, recently stated that steps should be taken to ensure that fire rated downlights are compliant with i-Joists being used in new build homes. Aurora Lighting & partner Staircraft Group, the UK’s leading supplier of i-Joists, are the first to have a downlight range successfully assessed to demonstrate that the i-Joists and downlight combination will satisfy fire safety Building Regulations for 30 mins fire rating in domestic housing which essential step in ensuring fire safety guidelines in new builds.

In order to make sure installations are fully compliant, all relevant legislation must be taken into account whether it be Wiring or Building Regulations or adhering to NHBC requirements. If a project hasn’t met all requirements, it won’t be compliant.

Nothing emphasises the importance of Building Regulations and Fire Safety more than the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Although it would appear that a faulty fridge freezer was found to be the cause, the horrific tragedy highlights the role that every contractor working on a such a construction project must play in ensuring all legislation is met in full. The devastating loss of life caused by this horrific incident clearly demonstrates that there is no room for complacency when it comes to fire safety and its enforcement during the construction period.

The key considerations when installing fire rated downlights or designing a scheme which will require fire rated products are to:

Be aware of the fire resistance rating required within the application (subject to height and application)

Ensure that the installation is compliant with all relevant regulations and standards

Ensure you have all appropriate fire test certificates for the building whether they are for 30, 60 or 90 minutes

At Aurora Lighting, all of our fire rated downlights are fire tested to 30, 60 and 90 minutes as standard - taking the hassle out of selecting the right luminaire and potentially saving lives.