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By Arthur J. Parker, P.E., Jesse J. Beitel and Nestor R. Iwankiw, P.E.

, PhD
with the ASTM E 119 test standard (or similar fire resistance
Current trends in building design include leaving building structural test methods);
steel elements visually exposed rather than concealed. A number of tested • Be a listed product or system;
and listed fire protection materials are available to provide required fire • Be efficient to apply, resulting in a uniform thickness;
resistance ratings. In some cases, building designers may desire to leave • Adequately bond to the underlying steel element;
the steel members unprotected. In this case, an engineering analysis • Be resistant to corrosion, weathering, and aging (when required);
must show adequate structural fire resistance performance to meet • Resist abrasion damage resistance (incidental or otherwise)
the necessary fire safety objectives given the expected occupancy, fuel for materials that are applied within the reach or access
contents, structural steel sizes, building configuration, and anticipated of the building occupants; and
fire exposure. • Ideally, be a non-combustible material.
Building Code Requirements Common fire protection materials used for structural steel include
sprayed fire-resistive materials (SFRM), thin-film intumescents, epoxy-
Minimum fire resistance ratings for structural frame members,
based intumescents/mastics, board type products (mineral fiber and
nonbearing interior and exterior walls and partitions, and floor and
gypsum wallboard), and intumescent mat wrap materials. This article
roof construction are provided in the building codes. The minimum
specifically addresses the application of SFRM and intumescent materials
fire resistance rating is determined by the building construction “Type”
applied to commercial structural steel
and the classification of the structural
for AESS applications. Incorporation
member as primary or secondary. The
of unprotected construction beyond
height and area of the building and the
the limits of the building code
occupancy classification determines
requirements may still be feasible,
the building Type. Most steel framed,
provided an appropriate analysis is
multi-story buildings are constructed as
conducted (e.g., performance based
non-combustible Type I or II buildings
design) by a qualified structural fire
and are the focus of this article.
protection engineering firm.
A structural member must be
When properly applied to the
classified as either part of the primary
structural steel at the listed minimum
structural frame or as a secondary
thickness (and density when using
member. Columns and girders,
SFRM), fire protection materials will
beams, trusses, and spandrels having
provide the required fire resistance
direct connections to the columns
Figure 1: Structure Steel Members Protected with a Thin-Film rating. Each type will have a number
and bracing members designed to Intumescent (Photo Courtesy of Isolatek International)
of manufacturers, product variations,
carry gravity loads are defined by the
performance characteristics, and
building code as the primary structural frame. Structural members of the
requirements, and advantages/disadvantages, all of which can affect
floor and roof construction, which have no connection to the columns,
project design choices.
are considered as secondary members and are not considered part of the
Important considerations will include aesthetics, performance (fire
structural frame.
safety, durability, maintenance, exposures), and cost. Intumescents
The minimum hourly fire resistance ratings can then be determined
are likely the ideal choice for meeting AESS requirements, with thin-
from the building codes. For example, Table 601 of the International
film intumescents being more diverse and cost effective than the epoxy-
Building Code (IBC) provides the requirements for the various building
based intumescents. SFRM are less expensive to apply than the thin-
elements. Similar requirements are provided in NFPA 5000.
film intumescents, but may lack the necessary finished appearance.
Board and wrap products are applied in such a manner that the
Fire Protection Materials
contour of building steel are completely hidden, which may make
Many products are available to provide fire resistance for protected them undesirable.
construction. In general, fire protection materials should:
• Provide the required thermal protection when tested in accordance

STRUCTURE magazine • February 2005 33

Thin-Film Intumescents
construction applications.
Thin-film intumescents (Figure 1) are brush or spray-applied directly Application thicknesses range from approximately
to the structural steel at relatively thin thicknesses; approximately 0.03 0.2-inches to over 1 inch thick, depending on the
to 0.40 inches (dry film thickness). When exposed to heat, they size of the structural member and the fire resistance
undergo a chemical change and form an insulating char layer 15 to require-ments (up to 4 hours). Typical char layers are
30 times thicker than the initial application thickness. Listings in the on the order of 50 to 100 times the original thickness,
Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) Fire Resistance Directory in the significantly higher than thin-film intumescents.
D, N, and X design series, are provided for beams and Support for the increased char layer
columns with fire resistance ratings ranging from 1 to thickness is provided by incorporating
4 hours. Approved primers must be applied to the steel internal reinforcement (metal wire,
prior to the initial application to insure proper adhesion fiberglass, or carbon scrim mesh) in
to the structural steel. areas vulnerable to damage, such as
Thin-film intumescents can be applied in a single flange tips. No special surface primers
spray pass at the lower thickness ranges. Multiple spray are required for the epoxy-based
applications are required for greater thicknesses. Drying intumescents to achieve adequate
time must be allowed for multiple coat applications. adhesion with the steel surface, only
Adequate ventilation is important during the spraying a clean surface free of oil, dirt, grease,
process, as many thin-film intumescents are solvent or heavy mill scale. The finished
based. A paint finish coat may be applied over the dried texture of the spray applied epoxy-
thin-film intumescent to provide the desired finished based intumescent is slightly rougher
appearance. A listed finish coat is not required, though than the thin-film intumescent text-
the manufacturer’s recommendations for suitable ure, potentially limiting its usage for
Figure 3: Structural Steel Column
materials should be followed. Thin-film intumescent AESS applications.
Protected with SFRM
coatings are arguably the most aesthetically pleasing, Listings for epoxy-based intumes-
though they are more expensive than SFRM. cents are provided in the X600 and
Current thin-film intumescents most commonly provide 1- and 2- XR600 (hydrocarbon exposure) design series in the
hours of fire resistance. Fire resistance UL Fire Resistance Directory. A single, minimum
ratings of 3- and 4-hours are available; beam size is typically provided in the X600 series
though limited to massive structural listings. Adjustments for alternate beam sizes are more
members with a high W/D ratio (the problematic, since calculation methods have not yet
thermal mass provided by a steel building been developed for epoxy-based intumescents, as have
element). In the W/D ratio, “W” is the been developed with SFRM.
weight of the beam, in pounds per linear Epoxy-based intumescents are extremely durable
foot, and “D” is the heated perimeter of for exterior applications, provide excellent adhesion
the steel element in inches. qualities, and can have an aesthetically pleasing
With few exceptions, thin-film in- appearance. Testing has been conducted against various
tumescents have not been successfully blast loadings to insure that adhesion to the steel
tested (and/or listed) to provide fire resist- substrate (either a structural member or bulkhead)
ance ratings for open web steel joists, prior to the ensuing fire exposure is maintained. These
Figure 2: Steel Column light structural members (e.g., angles), excellent performance qualities do come at a price, so
Protected with Epoxy Based or to the underside of fire rated roof deck epoxy-based intumescents are specified predominantly
Intumescent (Photo Courtesy systems. Use for exterior applications is in special applications where severe fire exposures could
of PPG Industries, Inc.) also currently not recommended. be encountered.
The next generation of thin-film intumescents are expected to pro- If the newer threats of terrorist actions, and the
vide more options in steel sizes, increased 3- and 4-hour fire resistance resulting abnormal exposures due to combined im-
rating thicknesses, water-based formulations to better comply with health pact, blast damage and/or fire are deemed a design
and safety regulations, and greater single-pass application thicknesses. factor, this class of protective coatings may be a more
The resulting applications will likely be safer and more cost effective. viable option. The design services of a specialty fire
protection consulting firm should be engaged for
Epoxy-based Intumescents/Mastics advice in such applications.
Epoxy-based intumescents/mastics (Figure 2) are heavy-duty in-
tumescents developed primarily for the offshore and petrochemical Sprayed Fire-Resistive Materials (SFRM)
industries, where severe fire exposures can be encountered. Exposure of SFRM fall into two broad categories: sprayed mineral
the epoxy-based intumescents to the high heat flux environments result fiber SFRM (dry-mix) and sprayed cementitious SFRM
in the development of a robust char layer, capable of withstanding highly (wet-mix). All SFRM are composed of varying mixtures
erosive fire exposure environments. These products have been back- of mineral fibers, Portland cement, binders, and water.
fitted to some extent into other use applications, including protection The finished appearance resembles a rough sprayed
of structural steel in commercial buildings, clean rooms, and pre- plaster-like texture. Figure 3 shows a steel column

34 STRUCTURE magazine • February 2005

protected with mineral fiber SFRM with the typical building designer and contained in the submittal documents. Adjustments
rough texture. Some SFRM products can be trowel to the SFRM thickness, using calculation methods contained in the
applied or trowel finished to produce a smoother finish, UL Fire Resistance Directory, can be applied to minimize the SFRM
but the material thickness (on the order of 1 inch or application.
more) will commonly result in a bulky appearance
and non-uniform look given the inevitable local Testing and Listings
overspray. The thin, architecturally appealing lines of UL offers numerous listings for the materials described above.
the steel are consequently obscured and overwhelmed The requirements provided in the listings and the manufacturer’s
by these SFRM features. Therefore, for aesthetic reasons written installation instructions must be followed to insure proper
SFRM would not ordinarily be the protection material application. Calculation methods derived from testing may be utilized,
of choice for use in prominently displayed AESS areas. within appropriate limits, when situations arise which are outside the
Sprayed mineral fiber SFRM contain a mixture of bounds of the listing. For example, UL provides an equation based
mineral fibers and Portland cement with a density, on the W/D ratio of the steel member being protected such that the
pounds per cubic foot (pcf ), ranging from the mid-teens required SFRM thickness is reduced as the W/D ratio increases.

Table 1: Usage Comparison of Sprayed-Fiber and Cementitious SFRM

Density (pcf ) Sprayed-Fiber Cementitious (Wet-Mix) SFRM Common Uses
(Dry-Mix) SFRM
Mid teens Portland cement and mineral Gypsum plaster with vermiculite Concealed structural steel
to 20 fiber factory mix or shredded polystyrene
20 - 25 Portland cement and milled Portland cement and/or gypsum with Weather-exposed structural steel
mineral fiber factory mix vermiculite or shredded polystyrene Loading docks Equipment rooms
40 to 50 None available Portland cement and vermiculite or Weather-exposed structural elements
Mica and other aggregates such as parking garages,
overpass structures

to the low twenties. Sprayed-fiber SFRM are shipped General calculation methods for the intumescent materials do not
dry in bags to the job site, poured into a special hopper currently exist. There is limited performance data over a wide range of
where they are “carded” or mixed. The dry fibers are structural steel sizes available, and a thorough theoretical understanding of
conveyed by low pressure air through a hose to a special the intumescing process is unknown. A minimum intumescent insulation
nozzle attached to the end of the spray head where it thickness can be calculated, provided thicknesses for bounding steel
is mixed with atomized water prior to application to members are known. Existing fire test data can also be utilized to predict
the structural steel. When set appropriately, the desired the performance of intumescent materials. A qualified structural fire
SFRM consistency and density is achieved. protection engineer can utilize the manufacturer’s test data and product
Sprayed cementitious SFRM may contain gypsum knowledge, and analytical engineering tools to determine an appropriate
binders or Portland cement, and have densities ranging insulation thickness. Alternatively, a fire test can be conducted for the
from the mid-teens up to approximately 50 pcf. assembly being designed.
Cementitious SFRM are also shipped dry to the job
site, however the SFRM are mixed with water in the hop- Inspection Requirements
per to form a slurry. The wet SFRM are then conveyed Specific requirements are included in the building codes to insure
through a hose to a spray nozzle, where compressed air that the fire protection materials are applied in accordance with the
is typically used to disperse the material into a spray pat- listing and manufacturer’s requirements. Section 1704.11 of the IBC
tern for direct application to the structural steel. Increasing provides specific requirements for the inspection of SFRM materials.
the density of the cementitious SFRM provides a harder, Field testing standards are available to verify the SFRM density, field
more durable, weather and abrasion resistant cover for applied insulation thickness, and adhesion/cohesion. A number of
longer-term and unusual exposures, but these benefits American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and Association of
come at a higher price compared to the sprayed-fiber the Wall and Ceiling Industries – International (AWCI) standards exist
SFRM. A comparison of the generic usages of sprayed- for conducting field testing of SFRM applied to building structural
fiber and cementitious SFRM is provided in Table 1. steel.
The minimum thickness of the SFRM depends on Inspecting field applied intumescent materials used for structural
the steel size and the hourly fire resistance rating steel protection is not specifically required in the building codes. AWCI
required. UL Fire Resistance Directory provides provides inspection criteria for the thickness measurement of applied
minimum thickness and density values for columns, coatings. The density of the field applied intumescent materials does not
beams, trusses, floor/ceilings, and roof deck assemblies vary during installation; therefore, no verification of the installed density
in the D, N, S, P, and X design series. The appropriate is required.
Listing for the SFRM and the steel sizes being
protected on the job site will be calculated by the
STRUCTURE magazine • February 2005 35
Conclusions to the steel surface at a listed minimum insulation thickness to provide
In many applications it is possible to incorporate unprotected AESS, the required fire resistance rating. Limitations for all insulation materials
with special engineering analysis to demonstrate compliance with exist, and must be followed to prevent misapplication of the product and
the performance objectives of the code for the encountered project to ensure proper fire performance. Building codes, test standards, and
conditions. An appropriate engineering analysis must be conducted by a industry practices provide specific inspection guidelines for insuring that
qualified structural fire protection engineer to justify deviations from the the fire protection materials are properly applied and will provide the
prescriptive building code requirements. level of safety required. A qualified structural fire protection engineering
Fire protection of AESS within the building code requirements can be firm is best suited to advise the project team on the selection, design,
provided by use of a number of commercially available, tested, and listed application, inspection, and maintenance of the potential fire protection
fire protection materials. Fire protection materials are applied directly products for protected construction.▪

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36 STRUCTURE magazine • February 2005