Fireproofing Steel Assets

Importance Of Industrial Fireproofing

Fireproofing steel assets

In the event of fire outbreak, fireproofing steel in your facility can mean the difference between the facility sustaining damage and a complete and total collapse. Passive fire protection can act as an important complement to the active fire protection systems in oil and gas facilities, petrochemical plants, refineries, power generation facilities and more. Whether it’s a part of a push to make your facility safer or it’s been mandated by an insurance company or auditor, fireproofing your structural steel just makes sense.

Refinery fires can reach temperatures upwards of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but structural steel begins to lose strength at only around 570 degrees. By 750 degrees, significant degradation is likely to have occurred. Around 1100 degrees is usually considered the failing point for structural steel, though this point can vary significantly based on the load the steel is bearing and the grade of steel in question. Expansion during heating and contraction during cooling in the areas surrounding bolts and joints can also significantly affect the integrity of structural steel, in the form of bolt shearing and weld cracking, following a fire event.

Insulating structural steel from these extreme temperatures is the purpose of industrial fireproofing. By extending the time it takes the steel substrate to reach the temperatures where failures occur, coatings can buy valuable time for firefighters and other active fire protection systems to subdue the blaze before a collapse.

Given steel’s lack of inherent fire resistivity, fireproofing material is often applied to exposed surfaces of structural steel in order to preserve and protect the structure.

Many building codes require fireproofing protection to structural steel as a safety precaution. The most common way to provide such protection in the U.S. is by spraying low-density fiber or cementitious compounds, now called spray-applied fire-resistive material (SFRM). The product can be sprayed on steel to provide heat resistance and also can be applied over wood, fabric, and other building materials. Building codes dictate the required thickness of the coat is applied. Sprays are divided into a wet spray or dry spray materials, describing how the material is mixed and applied.

Intumescent Coatings

Also known as intumescent paint, this method provides fire resistance to structural steel members. One of the key benefits is that intumescent coatings will expand as much as 100 times the original thickness of the material, providing superior fire resistance by creating a buffer between the fire and the steel members. The coating will undergo a chemical reaction and expand when subjected to extreme temperatures—but before the temperatures become hot enough to affect the integrity of the steel.

Intumescent coatings are a great solution when aesthetics come into play with steel that is exposed to the general public. The product is applied just like paint, with every layer adding to the overall thickness of the product. This fireproofing material can be applied to structural wood as well.

Autoclaved Aerated Concrete

Autoclaved aerated concrete can enhance and provide fire resistance when needed, especially around steel columns. This produces fireproofing characteristics when installed between the flanges and tied to the web of rolled sections.

When you need to have longer fire resistance requirements, it can be beneficial to pour concrete between the flanges of the steel components using shear connections attached to the steel web. The concrete that is being placed needs to be retained at the bottom of the connection area.

Concrete

This option is far less common than it used to be, but for some projects, it can be beneficial to encase large sections of steel in concrete. Doing so requires more space because of the volume of concrete used, and it tends to be less aesthetically pleasing than other options. Structures like large parking garages are less concerned with these factors, so such structures might still employ this method.

Achieve additional fire protection by including reinforcements, such as rebar, between the flanges that are held in place by concrete.

Liquid Convection Cooling

First patented in the 19th century, liquid convection cooling involves running water, a rust inhibitor, and antifreeze through hollow structural members. If there is a fire, the hot liquid will rise, allowing cooler water to be run into the portion of the structure affected by the fire, thus reducing the temperature of the structural members.

International Building Code

Most municipalities or other jurisdictions in the U.S. use the International Building Code (IBC) as the foundation for their own standards. The IBC is updated every three years and most recently received an update in 2018.

Building materials and fireproofing methods typically are rated in minutes, based on tests conducted. For example, if a particular fireproofing method is rated for 60 minutes, that means it should help maintain structural integrity for at least 60 minutes. Obviously, the higher the rating, the more time that buys for evacuation and for extinguishing the fire while limiting damage.

Actual building requirements vary based on the building’s intended use, location, and other factors.

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