Fire retardant curtains, sometimes referred to as fire or smoke curtains, are curtains specially designed to keep building occupants safe from both heat and smoke during a fire. Fire retardant curtains are becoming increasingly popular as a passive means of fire safety. While many commercial buildings already utilize fire curtains, a growing number of schools now have these curtains installed for student and staff protection.
Choosing Fire Retardant Curtains
These curtains are made from a special type of fiberglass material and can withstand intense heat and block smoke from entering a protected room, elevator, or portion of the building. They are quite flexible, despite being very thick, which makes the curtains ideal for a number of different applications.
You can easily choose from a variety of different grades of curtains, depending on how much protection is needed or whether smoke or fire (or both) protection are required.
Being able to integrate fire retardant curtains into a school's fire or smoke alarm system is a huge advantage. Curtains deploy as soon as smoke sensors are triggered, enabling immediate protection of students and staff, without the chance of human error for releasing the curtains in a time manually.
In the event of an emergency situation where power is lost, curtains will still fall thanks to backup battery power.
Aside from giving schools additional protection in the event of an emergency, these fire or smoke curtains are some of the most effective means of compartmentalizing an open space.
Schools are often designed with large, open areas like cafeterias and gymnasiums, which makes creating a protected space difficult. The use of fire curtains means schools can easily create a safe boundary within a large, open room such as a cafeteria that will guide occupants safely out of the building without exposure to fire, smoke, or heat.
Though fire curtains can be placed in a number of different ways, there are a few areas within a school that are perfect candidates for durable fire retardant curtains.
A school's atrium often serves as an open lobby of sorts, a place where visitors, students, and staff enter and exit throughout the day. Some school's atriums also serve as a hangout spot for students during breaks and lunch.
The overall openness of an atrium, especially if it is a multi-story building, makes it an ideal spot for a fire retardant curtain system. The atrium may be completely blocked from the rest of the building or a separate curtained room may be designed, depending on the structure of the atrium.
Elevators are an element of danger in an emergency situation, especially where fire and smoke are involved. An elevator shaft essentially acts as a chimney in the event of a fire, quickly moving smoke upwards throughout the building. The traditional means of elevator fire protection is the addition of a self-contained fire-rated box that surrounds the elevator, in its own enclosed elevator lobby.
International Building Code (IBC) requires architects to isolate each floor from the elevator shaft, but the typical method isn’t ideal.
Smoke-rated curtains with a magnetic gasket can be used instead, to stop smoke from seeping through elevator doors, while still being compliant with IBC. This kind of curtain eliminates the need to alter the building design and saves building owners an incredible amount of space for their floor plan.
The curtains do a better job of containing smoke too. Rather than containing the smoke within a couple hundred square feet, the rolling magnetic gasketing system contains the smoke right in front of the elevator door opening.
Similar to the chimney effect of elevator shafts, stair enclosures can also funnel smoke up and throughout the school.
Being able to block off stairs helps control smoke and limits exposure to those within the building on every level. These curtains can easily be hidden when not in use, which helps to maintain the aesthetic value of the building design.
Although fire protection throughout a school is mandatory, these three areas are particularly excellent choices for fire retardant curtains as they are high-risk zones, due to either high foot traffic or because of the previously mentioned chimney effect with smoke.
Fire retardant curtains are highly versatile and far easier to work with than constructing fire-rated boxes or other invasive and unattractive means of fire and smoke containment. They are an invaluable option for schools due to their easy installation. The school will have less downtime while curtains are being placed and expensive remodels aren't a concern.
Compared to the costs of a serious remodel for fire-rated boxes, fire curtains are far more affordable. Even if a school already has taken steps to contain fire and smoke, these curtains will work perfectly with whatever other system may be in place, only adding further protection from heat and smoke.
Considering cost, practicality, and overall effectiveness in both school occupant protection as well as fire and smoke control, fire retardant curtains can be an ideal solution for any school's fire safety program.
Company: Smoke Guard, Inc.
Product: Model 4000 Smoke Curtain
With the continued popularity of high-rise corporate headquarters, institutional buildings and high-density housing, the gypsum shaftwall system, known as the Cavity Shaftwall System, provides economic benefits – and also peace of mind due to its fire-resistant qualities. Originally designed for the 110-story World Trade Center in 1973, the Cavity Shaftwall System replaced heavier, more expensive masonry walls. This shaftwall system utilizes gypsum board framed with metal studs and tracks to enclose elevator shafts, stairwells and service shafts. These shaftwalls withstand the positive and negative air pressure forces exerted by high-speed elevators. Cavity Shaftwall Systems are also ideal for fire-rated, interior partitions where access is restricted to one side and as fire-rated, horizontal membranes.
Advantages Of The Cavity Shaftwall System
Cavity Shaftwall Systems provide many benefits. They are lightweight, easy to install, weather-, sound- and fire-resistant and more economical than masonry shaft construction. Four to five times lighter than traditional masonry enclosures, gypsum shaftwalls weigh approximately 10 pounds per square foot of wall compared to 40 or 50 pounds per square foot for a masonry wall. Buildings utilizing this shaftwall system require less structural steel and extensive underground support pilings. In addition, the core of the gypsum panels in the Cavity Shaftwall System contains about 21 percent water by weight, creating a fire barrier with 1- to 4-hour fire-ratings from either side. When gypsum board is exposed to fire, the water turns to steam and slows the passage of heat through the assembly, keeping the building safe for a longer period of time.
Typical installations use 1-inch thick gypsum shaftliner panels inside a minimum 2-1/2-inch metal framing system with an integral space to hold the panels in place on the shaft side. Metal J-tracks are placed horizontally at the top and bottom and vertically at partition ends. They also frame openings. Depending on the fire-rating you are trying to achieve, install one to five layers of 5/8-inch fire-rated gypsum board to the outside of the stud, creating a corridor side of the enclosure.
To construct lightweight fire barriers for cavity shaftwalls (1-4 hr.), we recommend Gold Bond® BRAND eXP® Shaftliner. It is an approved component in specific UL fire-rated designs, including G586 (horizontal, 2-hr.) and W419 (vertical, 1-4-hr.).
Questions About The IBC 2009 Code Updates For Buildings?
If you are designing a building of occupancy category III or IV with occupied floors over 75 feet tall and all buildings over 420 feet tall IBC Section 403.2.3 require increased impact resistance for exit stairways and elevator hoistway enclosures. If you have questions, contact your construction design manager for clarification and for assistance with the best and most affordable options for your project.
Company: National Gypsum
Of: Scott Hughes and Thad Goodman