Firestop installers are in the life safety business. While firestopping is a key component in the overall protection of the building structure, it is also critical for protecting the lives inside the building.
One of the biggest challenges in firestopping today is ensuring the correct installation of firestop products. Most installers are well versed in building requirements and codes, but regardless of the installer’s skill, mistakes can still be made. That’s the nature of human error. Unfortunately, none of us can control everything or be perfect all the time. This is one of the main drivers behind two new inspection standards ASTM E2174 “Standard Practice for On Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops” and ASTM E2393 “Standard Practice for On Site Inspection of Installed Fire Resistive Joint Systems and Perimeter Fire Barriers.” The firestop industry has recognized this issue for years and has created these two standards to help address the improper installation of firestop.
However, there are still questions. What else can be done to help minimize this problem? How can we make sure we’re doing all we can to meet increasingly strict building regulations without sacrificing installation efficiency? How can we help installers pass these two new ASTM standards and how can we help code officials and other third party inspectors properly inspect firestop installations without requiring costly destructive inspection testing? We know that even trusted caulks and sprays are subject to error because the installer must install the proper depth of material and ensure the proper overlaps on to the adjoining substrates. Rather than forcing installers to eyeball their applications and meticulously measure the output of their caulks and sprays, why wouldn’t we use something where the installation is more consistent?
When contractors install firestop caulk or spray, they are installing it in accordance with a very prescribed UL, Intertek or third party system. For example, one particular system may require a 1/8-inch thick caulk or spray depth, so the installer has to be very precise in installation to achieve that exact thickness.
In this scenario, if the 1/8-inch thickness is not achieved, then a true firestop system has not been installed. There is a possibility that the application could fail in the event of a building fire, which may have disastrous results.
On the other hand, if the installer accidentally over-applies, then the result is a waste of materials and cost. This outcome is much less severe, but still not ideal. Just like anyone in any industry, contractors have to consider the cost of materials, as waste can have an unfavorable impact on profitability.
Using tape to firestop
Tapes have not traditionally been used in fire protection, but when you examine the benefits, it’s hard to see why someone wouldn’t use a tape in place of a caulk or spray. It is a revolutionary concept – to think that something as simple as a piece of tape could provide a barrier against fire, smoke, sound or water, but sometimes simple things can be the most effective.
The reasons to use tape as an alternative to caulks or sprays are abundant. Maybe most importantly, tapes provide a consistent installation throughout the entire application. The installer never has to worry about whether he or she as over applied or under applied – the thickness is predetermined so installers can select the exact size for their specific projects.
Tapes can be cost effective. By using a tape, installers minimize the risk of over application, so they can purchase exactly the amount of material they need.
Tapes are portable and require less equipment. Approximately one 8” x 75’ roll of tape is equivalent to a five-gallon pail of spray installed at 1/8” thickness (given no spray waste), which can allow installers to reduce the intensity of the labor associated with firestop installation. Also, the portability of tape allows installers to move more quickly from floor to floor and even within the same floor to get more done within a day.
Tapes can be efficient. Not only can installers eliminate the physical task of carting around a giant spray rig and pails of spray, they are getting additional time back in their days because there is no set-up time, and hardly any cleanup or waste disposal needs. Construction is an industry where time is of the essence. Getting rid of tedious steps like preparation and cleanup can be extremely helpful in moving on to the next project quickly without sacrificing the quality of the work.
Tapes can handle hot or cold weather installations. 3M™ Fire and Water Barrier Tape and 3M™ Smoke and Sound Tape can be installed from zero degrees all the way up to 120 degrees F. This means that work can continue even during extremely cold conditions. There is no need to halt the job because it’s too cold and there is no need to provide costly heat to continue work.
Tapes are sustainable. As the world grows more and more environmentally aware, installers have to consider regulations that could affect the products they are using. Tapes have no VOC emissions, unlike some standard wet sprays. When using a tape, no noxious chemicals are released into the environment, making it a clean application all around.
Addressing concerns about adhesives
In many industries, not just construction, people often question the strength of adhesives. It’s a valid concern – an installer certainly wants to feel comfortable that the product they’re using will work in the construction environment and provide excellent results.
3M’s firestopping tapes specifically are formulated with a robust adhesive that forms a strong bond to common construction substrates including aluminum, steel, concrete and glass. The strength of 3M’s tapes allows installers to feel confident that the firestop barrier they’ve provided will hold and be successful in the event of a fire.
Many people who want to use adhesives or tapes have expressed concern about the need for surface preparation. Sometimes using adhesives or tapes in applications can present more challenges than solutions if extensive surface preparation is required in order for the tape to form a strong bond, but not with 3M’s tapes. There is no need for a primer. As long as the surface is construction-clean and free of debris, the tape isn’t going anywhere.
Rain is a large area of concern in the construction industry. Tape provides immediate resistance against water, unlike sprays, which can wash off hours after installation upon contact with rain. There is no cure time for tapes, whereas sprays and caulks need time to dry or cure, thus there is no “wash-out.”
The ASTM inspection standards have been put in place to raise awareness and professionalism in the inspection of firestop applications. It’s a requirement in many areas for inspections to be conducted by a third party vendor unaffiliated with the construction team, who will check to make sure the firestop application has been installed correctly.
Inspectors will typically perform “destructive testing” and cut into a caulk or spray to measure the thickness, and then it has to be repaired, causing the installer to redo the work he or she has already done. It’s easy to inspect tape applications. When the product has a consistent thickness throughout and is installed exactly as-is, there’s no question about the accuracy. With tapes, the reparation is much easier, since you can simply put another piece of tape over the area in need of repair.
When lives are on the line, it’s important to leave as little room for error as possible. Tapes help installers rest assured knowing that the thickness is exact, and that their application will meet building safety codes and requirements.
For more information, go to www.3M.com/firestop-tape