If there's one thing we've learned while working in the Denver commercial construction market: success if best achieved when collaboration is maximized! This is especially true when it involves through penetration fire-stopping.
Through penetration firestop systems are those that protect penetrations which pass all the way through a fire-rated barrier, such as a wall or a floor. In general, both sides of the fire-rated barrier, or assembly, must be sealed by a proper, UL approved, fire-stopping system. These firestop systems are inspected by either a city inspector or third party inspector and at the same time as the frame inspection.
So, you might be asking yourself, "Why is collaboration so important?"
Great questions! Let us give our perspective:
Before a fire-stop inspection can occur, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEPs) rough-ins must be signed-off and ready to roll. Most general contractors know that there is an ideal sequence to installing MEP systems. Furthermore, most experienced commercial contractors know that there is a mile-wide-gap between expectations and reality. - Layouts are never perfect. Construction drawings change. Heck, even mistakes occur. Stuff happens!
By the time a fire-stop crew arrives to perform their services, they become responsible to remedy the "trail of destruction" left behind. Mis-cut holes from bad layouts, abandoned penetrations, eight inch holes with a one inch penetrant running through it and the list goes on. Nearly every penetrant presents a completely different fire protection scenario and that's if they're cut to match the specifications!
Each penetration through a fire-rated assembly must be addressed by a compliant firestop system, and there are hundreds. In order to stay compliant with those approved systems, much must be done prior to the actual firestopping installation. - Holes must be repaired and reduced down to the appropriate sizes. Penetrants must be secured properly. Mechanical insulation might need to be removed. Etc.
The most common misconception when addressing fire rated penetrations is to "just use red caulk." Many times contractors think they are doing the right thing but just don't know any better. But when it comes to firestopping, it's always about the tested system because we need to know that it works. In order to come up with an approval for a system, the manufacturer puts together a mock-up of a fire rated assembly, installs different types of penetrants through that mock assembly (wires, cables bundles, pipes, etc.) and then firestop those penetrants in a way that the engineers think it will work. The firestop mock up will follow very specific instructions, such as sealant depths, annular space around the penetrant and a combination of different fire protection materials. Then, a recognized testing agency (such as UL or FM) will test those assemblies by simulating a fire for a specific number of hours, removing them from the fire and blasting them with a hose. The manufacturer must pass all facets of the test in order to sell it as an approved system.
In the real world, firestopping is rapidly becoming a hot button item. Building codes are becoming much more stringent on using approved systems. Furthermore, those building codes are becoming increasingly enforced. Based on our experience as firestop installers in Denver, the responsibility of maintaining the firestop integrity of a building lies on the shoulders of everyone involved with the construction process. From the architects and engineers during the design phase, through the contractors, subcontractors and manufacturers during the build phase, and, finally, the owner of the building throughout the life of the building.
Thus, collaboration is the key to firestopping success in commercial construction. Firestopping be woven into the fabric of the building design, then communicated amongst the construction professionals and handed off to the building owner. Doing so will eliminate avoidable delays, shorten construction schedules and save the end user a lot of money.