Breached Fire Walls and Fire Partitions
Breached fire walls & fire partitions
Fire Wall: A fire resistance-rated wall having protected openings, which restricts the spread of fire and extends continuously from the foundation to or through the roof, with sufficient structural stability under fire conditions to allow collapse of construction on either side without collapse of the wall. (IBC definition).
Fire Partition: A vertical assembly of materials designed to restrict the spread of fire in which openings are protected. (IBC definition).
Fire walls or fire partition walls can be found in residential townhouse style and stacked unit buildings and are typically visible in the attic. They have a fire resistance rating and can be constructed of masonry block, or fire rated sheetrock and separate a certain number of units.
Why they are important
The purpose of fire walls and partition walls is to confine and restrict the spread of fire throughout a building. This allows for more time for residents to escape the building safely, and for the fire department to respond to extinguish the fire. Also, restricting the spread of fire will cause less damage to the building and to personal property within.
Breached fire walls
Often, firewalls become breached. This means there is some type of opening or hole in the wall. This includes all different sizes, including full openings, or any space that has been cut out around pipes, wiring, etc. When there is a breach, this easily allows for fire and smoke to spread rapidly and defeats the purpose of the wall.
Causes of failure
Firewalls can become breached by previous contractors that need access to either side of the wall, or to fit pipes or wiring, etc. They can also become deteriorated or damage over time. If a breach is noted in one unit, it is very likely that there are similar breaches in other units as well.
How to repair
Repairs should be done in accordance with any applicable building codes to maintain the integrity of the fire wall. This will correct the effectiveness and integrity of the wall so that it can serve its purpose in the event of a fire. For larger openings, the fire wall can be repaired by using a UL fire rated sheetrock wall to fill in the opening and properly tape and finish with joint compound. For masonry fire walls, a contractor can fill in missing areas with masonry.
Smaller areas around piping/wires can be sealed and repaired with:
- Fire rated expanding foam
- Cable transits or pass-through devices
- Fire rated caulk (small holes - seal)
- Fire rated putty
(Materials should be tested in accordance with ASTM E814, UL147, and have a UL classified rating similar to the partition wall.)
To prevent breaches, regular inspections of all units to view the condition of the wall is recommended. Also, communication with outside contractors is important when having work done in attic space to understand if any drilling or cutting of the wall is necessary, and if so, ensure proper repairs are made.
"The scope of the International Building Code®️ (IBC®️) includes all buildings except detached one- and two- family dwellings and townhouses up to three stories. For the most current adoptions details go to International Code Adoption."
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