There are a number of ways that contractors can build structures that are fire-resistant without driving up the costs of the project. The building materials play a significant role in the fire resistance and some perform better than others when exposed to extreme heat. Concrete is one of the best materials to use to create buildings that are fire-resistant.
Suitable building materials should not catch fire easily, should not disintegrate under heat, should not expand under heat and should not lose strength when subjected to flames. Concrete fits all of these requirements – it does not burn, disintegrate, expand, bend or buckle when exposed to fire.
There are other factors that need consideration, such as fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers and hoses, emergency exits and evacuation plans. All of these factors combined can help to keep a fire contained and prevent it from totally destroying the building.
Fire-resistant characteristics of common building materials
There are numerous building materials that are commonly used in the construction of buildings. These include brick, concrete, steel, glass and timber. The fire resistance properties of each of these materials are outlined below.
- Brick – Bricks can resist heat up to 1200°C. If high-quality cement mortar is used to bind the bricks, the fire resistance of the structure will improve significantly.
- Concrete – Concrete is highly fire-resistant. It will retain its strength up to temperatures of around 250°C. Reinforced concrete structures can resist fire for about one hour at a temperature of 1000°C. Cement concrete is an ideal building material for fire protection.
- Steel – Steel is a good conductor of heat, which is not ideal in fire situations. However, steel can withstand high temperatures before losing strength – around 600°C. It will completely melt at 1400°C. Steel pillars and reinforcements will become weak under a prolonged fire.
- Glass – Glass expands during heating and when it cools down, cracks begin to form. Reinforced glass with steel wire is more resistant to fire and less prone to shattering. Glass can melt under the intense heat of building fires.
- Timber – Any structure made of wood will be destroyed quickly if a fire breaks out. Timber actually makes fires more intense and fuels the spread of the flames. In modern homes, the first part of the building to burn down is usually the roof because of the timber trusses and plywood ceiling boards. There are chemicals paints that can be applied to wood to make it more fire-resistant.
Additional fire precautions to be taken
Contractors and architects need to carefully consider the building dimensions for optimal fire safety. Emergency exits should never be too far away or all located on the same side of the building. They should be free from obstructions outside and well-lit with illuminated signage so that they can be found in smoky conditions. Separate apartments or rooms should also be compartmentalised to prevent the fire from easily spreading from one location to another within the building.
Fire alarm systems should also be installed by accredited companies. The smoke detectors and sprinkler systems should be tested often, as well as alarm switches and sirens. Architects need to ensure that adequate fire extinguishers and fire hoses are provided, especially in high-rise buildings where occupants will need to travel far to exit the structure.
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