Kimmco’s Westermayer: The inside counts when it comes to fire safety

Mark Westermayer says new UAE codes are a chance to re-consider the fire safe insulation material for HVAC and interiors

Mark Westermayer of Kimmco says that HVAC systems need to be closely assessed when it comes to fire safety.

“Most of our modern city lifestyle demands us to be indoors and in air-conditioned space. HVAC systems play a critical role in this, offering comfort in every type of building – home or office. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an average American spends 87% of their life indoors, another 6% in automobiles and only 7% outdoors.

“Different types of insulation material are used to achieve optimum thermal and acoustic comfort in HVAC systems and unfortunately less attention is given to the safety of the building. The recent residential tower fire accident in London and hotel fire on New Year’s Eve in Dubai are examples of how combustible building material can become a carrier for the rapid spread of fire and smoke.

“Investigation reports of these accidents have concluded that the presence of combustible insulation material in the façade was the prime reason for the rapid spread and related deaths. It was also reported that patients were treated for toxic smoke inhalation. The silver lining in the Dubai fire was the formulation of the new Dubai Civil DefenCe Code. The new building code is relatively stringent and emphasises the importance of building fire safety, especially in selection of building materials.

“The new code recommends eliminating the use of non-combustible façade systems. Facade systems have to undergo fire tests before obtaining the required approval from the Dubai Civil Defence. It is worth noting that in many buildings similar kinds of high flammable insulation that are listed as not suitable for façade application are used for HVAC duct insulation, and also in other applications like wall and roof insulation.

“It would be good practice to consider fire safe insulation material for interiors also. Material properties like flame spread, ignitable, smoke development and droplets also need to be evaluated before selecting any insulation material. The NFPA’s ‘Large-Loss Fires in the United States 2016’ report has total property loss of $348.6m in 22 large structural fires.

“EN 13501 is a European standard. It provides the reaction to fire classification procedure for all products and building elements. Products are classified as A1 to F, with A1 ‘Non-Combustible’ and F ‘Easily Flammable’. EN 13501 also has testing to classify materials for smoke release and droplets. Building safety codes in many countries mostly depend on basic fire tests like ASTM E84, but many of these may not be a complete representation of real fire, which is more intense than the surface burning test.

“Smoke and droplets are also to be seriously considered before choosing any insulation material. According to NFPA Fire Analysis & Research, three quarters of all fire deaths are caused by smoke inhalation and approximately 57% of people killed in fires are not in the room of the fire’s origin. Smoke is a killer. It can pass through small narrow openings and travel 120-420 feet per minute under fire conditions. Smoke and droplet hampers rescue and firefighting.

“Considering the current global scenario, sustainable and energy efficient buildings are the need for the hour. It is estimated globally that buildings consume more than 40% of total energy usage. Insulation can significantly reduce the energy demand. But this should not compromise building safety. Construction methods and technology have changed; consultants and designers must not only look for newer construction technologies and materials but also must have a genuine interest in promoting building materials that offer both comfort and safety, including products and systems that have cleared the latest stringent testing standards.”


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